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The View from the Chicago River

This post is sponsored by Chase – a strong supporter of the Global Cities Initiative, a program that helps foster local economic development. Learn more here.

I’ve lived in the Chicago area my entire life, and Oak Park is just fifteen minutes West of downtown by car or train (the ‘L’). I know the city pretty well, but sometimes it’s nice to see it from a different perspective. Like a scary open body of water perspective.

In all fairness, it’s only scary because I can’t swim and I’m afraid of water. Adding “Take the Chicago Architecture Foundation’s River Cruise to my Lovely Life List was really in large part to get me on a big boat.

The tour was fantastic and thankfully the boat ride itself was uneventful, save for a passing barge blasting its horn at us (presumably having some fun with the tourists). I jumped in my seat.

The view from the river isn’t the most beautiful way to sightsee, but if you’re at least passingly familiar with Chicago, it’s an interesting new view of the city. Many buildings along the river, especially the older ones, completely turned their back to it. Our tour docent explained that “the river was toxic, whereas now it’s merely polluted.” Brandon succinctly said “no one wants to overlook a toilet.”

The city cleaned up its river eventually (magic, I assume, or maybe magic green dye), and people began to view it as a desirable location a few decades ago. Couple a newfound interest in riverfront living with the go-go eighties economic boom, and you have a recipe for city growth. Chicago holds itself to following a larger plan as it grows (a blessing to come out of the rebuilding following The Great Chicago Fire), and city plans call for all new structures to include a riverwalk. There is some access today, but the Chicago River will someday have public walkways all along its bank.

Chicago is still seeing new buildings go up too, with Trump Tower and Aqua being two of the most notable recent additions to the river. The Spire would be noteworthy too, but it’s on hold after having only the foundation built. Its drill bit design isn’t my favorite, but it is admittedly interesting and I hope to see it completed.

There are still plenty of new buildings going up all around the city, including along the Chicago River. New buildings bring new residents, they stimulate the local economy, new money begets new growth, and so on. We have an ever-changing skyline.

How To Make a Statement Necklace

post by Andrea

I’m quite enamored with just about everything craft related, but I get especially excited when I get to create a piece of jewelry or another type of accessory.  I was so happy when Nicole was open to the idea of me sharing a jewelry-based DIY with you all, and I hope you enjoy it.  And while the idea of making your own jewelry may sound a bit intimidating, I assure that if you’re even somewhat remotely ‘crafty’, you can create something for yourself with just a few basic items you can find at just about any craft  store.

To get started with this particular statement necklace, take a trip to your local Michael’s (or other craft store), which is where I picked up everything you see below, including the beads, and pick up the following items:

Jade colored beads in multiple sizes (I used 3 different sizes), mono-filament jewelry wire (it looks just like fishing line), a package of jewelry chain, an all purpose pack of ‘jewelry findings’, which includes jump rings, crimping beads, lobster claw closures, and pin wires.  You can buy all of these items in separate packages but if you’re a beginner or aren’t doing a lot of jewelry making, this all purpose pack is great.  You also want to have a pair of scissors on hand, as well as a pair of needle nose pliers and wire cutters, which they sell on the cheap at a craft store, or you could always use a pair from your tool chest.  Total supplies, if you include buying the tools, should run you less than $30.  *Note that over the weekend I made this necklace again for a friend and this time I used a jewelry wire called Soft Flex in ultra fine.  It was actually great to work with and because this necklace gets a little heavy, it is really sturdy and should hold up better over time.  It is quite a bit more than mono-filament, but may be worth it in the end.

Begin by cutting a length of your jewelry wire (roughly 18 inches), and string 1 of the crimp beads and a jump ring through the tail end of one side.  Loop the wire over the jump ring and through the crimp bead again, creating a loop that is held together by the crimp bead.  Gently but firmly squeeze the crimp bead shut with your needle nose pliers.  There’s an actual bead crimper that they sell, but I’ve never had a problem closing my crimp beads shut with my pliers.  You’re now ready to begin stringing your beads.  Once you’ve completed one strand, close it off using the same method that you began with, using a crimp bead and jump ring.  Your other 2 strand will now attach to this single jump ring.  Trim the extra jewelry wire.  Note that each strand will be approximately 14-15 inches long when finished.  You don’t want all 3 strands to be exactly the same length so that they lay better on your neck.

Since I’m not an actual jewelry designer and do this for fun, I always try to keep my designs relatively simple.  I always love the look of mixed metals and gems, but I leave the real pattern mixing to the professionals, and stick to similar materials and tonal, or complementary, colors when creating something new.  With this necklace, the only variations I made was to use a slightly different pattern with all three strands.  One strand uses just the 2 smaller sized beads and has tiny gold seed beads spaced between each one.  The other 2 strands contains a mixture of all 3 sizes, but in a slightly varying pattern.

Once the body of your necklace is finished, it’s time to attach your chain.  I think adding the chain creates a more finished look, and it also makes the necklace adjustable.  Snip off 2 pieces of chain with your wire cutters.  My chain is approximately 2.5″ long on each side.  Attach each piece of chain to the jump ring on either side.  A tip when opening and closing your jump rings; if you have 2 sets of small pliers on hand, gently pry each end apart, as shown, and then squeeze shut.  This helps to maintain the shape of the ring, but it’s not necessary. Grab 2 more jump rings and attach it to the end of one chain, and attach it to the lobster claw and chain on the other end.  Now you have your closure.  If you’d like to really lend a finished look to your necklace, you could grab a sapre bead and attach it to one of the pin heads and then run it through a loop of chain and twist it shut, nipping off the end with your wire cutters, but this is not necessary.

You’ve now finished your necklace and are ready to try it on! Total time to complete this necklace is 45 minutes or less, depending on your comfort level with working with the tools and beads.

I tried the necklace on with a white tee, a chambray shirt, and this red dress, and it looked great with all three options, but I really love the way it pops against the red. Jewelry making is one of the most rewarding hobbies I have, and I hope this inspires you to give it a try. Please let me know if you have any questions.

Mother’s Day Gift Idea: A “Time To Create” Box

post by Andrea

One of the things I think all women crave more of, especially women that love to create, is time.  And if you’re a mother of young children, this rings even more true.  My husband always seems perplexed each year as to what to get me for Mother’s Day, and I’m admittedly not much help.  But this year I created in my head what the perfect gift would be.  An afternoon off, to sit around and make stuff.  Projects I’ve been meaning to get around to, new beads I’ve wanted to play with, pretty paper that’s just itching to be used.  A crafternoon if you will, made even better by a box of plenty, filled with fun and pretty items to craft and create with.  It doesn’t get much easier or convenient than that, right?  Below is what my perfect crafting box would look like, and how I created it, but really, you can adjust it to the needs and interests of any special woman in your life.

You begin of course with a lovely box.  Add some shredded paper so items don’t shift all around, and then layer a few sheets of tissue paper over that.

Begin filling the box with your items, largest at the bottom, and build up from there.  The color scheme of this box was based primarily off this nautical themed paper I found at Paper Source, with rich shades of navy, crimson and jade, offset by a soft shade of pool blue.  Paper crafting is an easy and stress free way to spend the afternoon, so the majority of the items in the box center around paper crafts, with a few fun extras throw in.

Stamps and stamp pads are an easy and inexpensive way to create personalized stationery, so several of each were added in, as well as a stack of simple white card stock and kraft paper envelopes.

Gel pens in coordinating colors and a genius of an invention, the glue pen, were included.  Personalize your note cards by writing a message with the glue pen, then sprinkling some glitter on top.  The aquatic and polka dot paper is cut out and used to line envelopes, a simple, yet festive touch.

A few added odds and ends include bottles of nail polish, glitter, and some interesting beads, just in case I want to do something different.  The beads are used to make a funky keychain so I can find my keys in my purse, and why yes, a manicure with a bit of glitter is called for.  And if you have a keen eye, you might have noticed the wrapped coffee gift card up top.  A good coffee drink is essential for any creative afternoon.

In case you do want to create a box similar to mine, here is a list of resources:

While this box was pretty much made for me and my interests, you can create something with just about any theme in mind.  Specialty spices and non-perishable food mixes from Williams Sonoma for the foodie in your life.  Fabric swatches and coordinating thread and a new sewing pattern for the seamstress.  For the gardener, you could even think outside the box and give a pretty terrarium filled with all the necessary items to create one like Nicole’s.  Whatever is in the box though, it will surely be appreciated if given with the promise of just a little extra time to herself.

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