Monday, June 30, 2008
My turn for the super simple project. Almost embarrassingly so.
Anyway, I am helping my little sister move her two year old son into their current guestroom in order to have room in the current nursery for the new baby, a girl. My mother is in charge of girlification of the current nursery. It's gender neutral, but leans a little heavily more towards boys than girls (lots of blue).
I took over my nephew's room. It's been pretty fun but it's really hard to design a room that's 1000 miles away! The basic idea is to go with a sports theme. The main colors for the room are blue, red and brown (more like beige).
With those few facts in mind, I just did a few quick craft paintings on cheapo canvases. I wanted to keep a symmetrical look to the room (and "art) so I bought these little 10"x10" canvases for $3.88 each at Walmart.
For the actual painting, I used a basic acrylic craft paint. I painted the canvases the background colors I wanted (if you are ever painting a field of red paint, prime your white canvas with a nice light gray paint first and your red will be more true...I learned this fact the hard way after 6 coats of paint that still wasn't red). I then found images of the sports balls that I wanted online and sized them to be the basic same size. Consistency is the key, even in simple projects. Especially in simple projects.
Because I lack a gene that allows me to draw a circle perfectly, I traced the outline of the balls onto the canvas using transfer paper. I love this stuff. After getting the image onto the canvas, I just carefully painted on the colors. It took a while for me to get everything just right but it turned out okay. A little boring, but once these are on the wall I intend them to be, it should make a good statement (pictures of the wall to come...if it works out!).
Thursday, June 26, 2008
If you happen to be anything like me you find yourself, on any “special” trip – first time to NYC or another major US city, certainly any overseas travel – saving little paper items like ticket stubs and concert programs. If you happen to be a lot like me, you return home and promptly – or worse, eventually – stuff your fond paper memories into a shoebox, dooming them to virtual oblivion. Yes, I know, someday you will unearth your little collection of subway passes and receipts and collage them into a special scrapbook along with all those wonderful photos you took. Hey, maybe you can even go ahead and include a photo of those nice pigs flying past the window. Anyway, the great thing about this little project is that it doesn’t preclude the eventual scrapbooking of your travel detritus – in fact, it will actually help you out with that scrapbooking – as will a space heater to warm up your frozen-over corner of scrapbooking hell.
The truth is, in this digital age, I’m not even sure I want to be making the conventional paper&photo-corners albums anymore. I’m much more interested in someday formatting and self-publishing my best pics into an actual book courtesy of lulu or somesuch – and rest assured, if I ever do undertake such a project I will be posting about it here. Nevertheless, it’s nice to have a way of keeping the memories associated with your paper travel debris – in particular to remember the names of places where you ate, or whom you saw perform and what they played.
For instance, on a truly wonderful trip to Barcelona last month, I collected two concert programs and several ticket stubs from various museums, etc.. But especially nice were the small business-size cards given out by nearly all the restaurants. These typically have the restaurant name on one side and a map showing its location on the other.
The rest, as you’ve probably guessed, is very straightforward. I sorted through my ticket stubs and restaurant cards, arranging them in approximate chronological order (greatly aided by my journal entries). Then, with double-sided tape, I stuck them into the book immediately following the final journal entry. A small sampling:
Ticket stubs and shopping labels...
For a Spanish guitar concert program, I trimmed excess paper from the edges, then folded the program accordion-style so it can be pulled out and read in its entirety:
And that’s it. Pretty simple. Of course there are various ways you could improve upon this – one problem is that the thickness of all the accumulated cards and ticket stubs keeps the notebook from closing properly. Because my Moleskin has the handy elastic strap to keep it closed, this isn't a real issue for me. However, an obvious solution (provided you’ve got the extra pages – I know I did) is to cut out several pages from the notebook to make room for the thicker paper. Another variation would be to stick in each day’s cards in between each day’s journal entry – although this I don’t like so much, as it turns into a project to keep up with during the trip – you’d have to bring along your tape and allow time to do it each day. And double-sided tape may not be the absolute best adhesive to use; I liked it, though, because there’s no mess as with an Elmers-type glue, you get better adherence than with a glue-stick, and the chances of being able to remove things in the future are improved. If you were a maniac, I suppose you could go for photo-corners, but if you’re that kind of person chances are you’d be putting together a full-blown scrapbook anyway.
And speaking of scrapbooks: how, you ask, will this “actually help you out with that scrapbooking,” as stated above? First of all, obviously, by keeping these items handily in one known place. Secondly, preserving the correct sequence of your various events. Each item should be able to be removed – carefully – from the notebook at a later date. Even if they don’t easily peel away from the tape, you can always cut out the notebook paper and trim to fit your ticket stub or what-have-you. But even if these things never make it into a scrapbook, you’re left with a nice, minimalist little travel book – a mini “story of your trip” – fun to show off to others or to reawaken your fond memories of far-flung places.
Lesson learned: Keeping a travel journal is not only surprisingly easy but incredibly gratifying.
Monday, June 23, 2008
So last night I put together a little soiree for my apartment building in order for the tenants to all kind of hang out on our fabulous deck. It was fun. Almost everyone made it but one couple, who had a previous commitment.
Because it is summer, I wanted to go with a cold finger food sort of theme. I knew that my people limit would be 7, so I knew I wouldn't have to make enough food for an army, which I did anyway because I always imagine myself eating all the food. I also wanted to have some fruity summer cocktails as it would still be light outside and a bit warm on our deck.
The first appetizer I made were these baby blts. They were really good, but for some reason (the tomato scare?) I was the only one to make a considerable dent in them. Oops! I would definitely make them again though, but preferably at an indoor party because, although they didn't go bad, the mayo in them turned a little darker than normal after a very short time.
The second little snack was a spinach dip (cold) served with an array of fresh veggies. This spinach dip is super easy to make but a bit bland. I would definitely add a little somethin' somethin' to it, although I'm not really sure what...I would have added that dry Italian seasoning stuff, but you'll see that my next finger food already had that in them. Anyway, I also served bite size tortillas with the spinach dip and that was as fantastic as dipping the veggies in the dip.
Lastly, I made cucumber toasties. These little treats are tasty! I did NOT add the dried dill to the top of them because I forgot! Doh! But they were gobbled up by everyone. I first made these in the summer of 2004. Yup. I remember. Silly. I haven't made them but once since that summer (I took them to three parties...yeah back when I went to parties!!).
Along with the three recipes I gave you, I also sliced a fresh pineapple (Man, it was so good!), fresh watermelon (not so good - not very ripe), and chips and salsa.
For my summer themed cocktail, I made slushy watermelon mojitos. These drinks are just darn right yummy. Everyone loved them, including myself. They were very fruity (although not so much as they could have been due to the underripe watermelon) and just had an overall nice balance of tastes. A most excellent, refreshing summer drink!
Although I took ZERO pictures of the party, I could post the aftermath of the kitchen, but I don't feel like showing you all my dirty laundry just yet...maybe a few posts from now!
Saturday, June 21, 2008
A few weeks into this Bradymania, niece #1 (we might as well call her Marcia) brought joy to her aunt's heart by declaring that the Brady's, not Ratatouille, would be the theme for her upcoming birthday party. This presented all sorts of great potential party ideas - games, activities - and led to two projects that made for a somewhat hectic but thoroughly fun and rewarding week.
Since the images I would be copying were somewhat cartoonish, I had decided to try my hand at color-flow for the Brady faces. This is a decorating technique where you first outline your desired design (usually trace it on a sheet of waxed paper) in color flow icing, allow that to dry thoroughly, then fill in areas of color with thinned-out tints of the same icing. My mother, who is really gifted at cake decorating (and baking!) did several cakes with color flow when I was growing up – the most memorable of these to me was my fifth birthday Strawberry Shortcake Cake, which featured a perfect color flow Strawberry Shortcake.
But not too much later – at this point it was three days before cake-day, so next day I decided to buckle down and start making faces. Unfortunately my color flowing skills had not improved overnight. After subsequent conversations with my Mom it seems clear that my icing was too thick. Whatever the case, the Bobby, Greg, and Peter that I piped were not inspiring – wiggly, too-fat lines – and my hand was killing me. Worse, thanks to using the wrong kind of paper, the icing was not adhering to the paper at all but coming off and sort of breaking up (the same was true for the previous night’s Happy Birthday).
Now, as it happens, the day I had gone shopping for color flow mix – partly because it was so exciting to be at Michael’s with such a wide array of Wilton products before me, and partly because I was scared of undertaking my first-ever color flow project with no back-up plan – I had also bought a couple of packages of pre-tinted ready-to-use rolled fondant. (Another product I’ve never used – not to offend any fondant-lovers out there but I sort of disapprove of it: it doesn’t taste very good and is becoming so ubiquitous these days. Aren’t cakes for eating, as well as looking pretty?) After two discouraging hours of non-successful color flow, it was clearly time for Plan B. In fact, I probably could’ve stuck with Plan A had it occurred to me to call Mom and ask for color flow advice, but as it happened that didn’t occur to me.
So, finally cake day! I had made up the cakes – two 11x15 layers of lemon cake mix (yes, I use cake mixes; read Carrie’s posts if you want from-scratch cakes) – several days in advance so they were frozen and easier-to-ice. Although I know that all-shortening frosting is supposedly easier to work with, I just couldn’t bring myself to subject even unrefined juvenile taste buds to such yucky stuff, so I made up Wilton’s buttercream recipe – half shortening, half butter. In all I would make three batches of icing, one less than I had anticipated. One problem of this being a lemon-flavored cake is that chocolate (ie., cocoa-powder-based) frosting really isn’t appropriate. The brown frosting for the edges of the cake thus required large quantities of food coloring – the brown color would only take it so far, so I ended up adding both red and black as well. Later I added more black to this to turn it into the black detail frosting.
The cake icing process itself was pretty boring – smoothing and resmoothing. Although my “crumb coat” came out pretty well, every subsequent layer was a bit of a mess – it was hard to keep the brown edge frosting from getting mixed into the white top frosting, but oh well. I mixed a little silver pearl dust with powdered sugar, and lightly brushed that over the upper right corner of the TV (where the control knobs would go). The knobs themselves are mini Reeses cups painted with black food coloring. The notches around the dial are chocolate sprinkles, selected to be approximately the same length and applied with (clean) tweezers. I used a #134 (?) tip to make a crosshatch for the speaker, and a #47 tip for doing the black trim around the edges.
But the fun part was slathering on my bright-Brady-blue screen and carefully putting each Brady in his or her place. Afterwards I piped on the black grid and applied the Happy Birthday “Marcia”! (cut with the Ex-acto out of white rolled fondant, and outlined with a black food decorating pen). As you can see, my cake decorating skills are not perfect – such sloppy edges! – but I think the overall effect was just right. “Marcia” and her friends loved it (guess who’s face she wanted on her piece), and of course that is the most important thing.
Two days after the party my coloring book came. It features a little story about the Brady family going on a camping trip. Although it may have been worth the $10 just to read the phrase “Hey! They Look Keen!”, as of now I have no idea what use to make of it. But maybe yet another Brady project will present itself …
# 1 Always have a Plan B. Or two.
#2 Never again try to make brown or black icing without using cocoa powder.
#3 Call Mom when you're having trouble.
#4 Assume two weeks' delivery for all ebay purchases.
Anyway, it wasn’t long before I knew I had the perfect Brady-ñata concept. When we got back from Target, I grabbed my Brady dvd’s and searched out Confessions, Confessions, truly a classic episode from Season 2.
The other children each confess to breaking Carol's favorite vase ("Mom always says, 'don't play ball in the house.'")* in order to prevent Peter from getting grounded and missing a camping trip. The parents put Peter in charge of doling out punishments to the others.
* [easily the most frequently misquoted line in Brady history]
And this is where a little insanity, or the Christie Factor, set in. Piñatas are of course made to be broken, and therefore very little time and effort should go into making them. But I couldn’t stop myself from quickly checking the soap- and candle-making aisles to see if just maybe I could find a scallop-shell mold to add some dimension, and authenticity, to the vase. Now, anyone who’s ever shopped at Pearl Paint in Cambridge can tell you that the store is perpetually understocked. Odds are that had I gone to the store on another day with the explicit intention of making a shell-shaped bar of soap, I would have left in frustrated defeat. Yet on this day, uncertain as to whether getting into dimensional papier-mâché was really the best idea, there it was: on an aisle pretty much depleted of all other soap-making equipment, a lone clamshell soap mold more-or-less the perfect shape and size for my piñata.
Now all I needed was newspaper – grabbed a few free Metros out of the box – and a rubber balloon. Here’s a tip: For some reason (choking hazard?) it’s become impossible, at least around here, to buy packages of rubber balloons at normal places like drug and craft stores. If, like me, you don’t have easy access to a Party City-type place, try going to a florist. The nice lady at Central Square Florist sold me four rubber balloons, uninflated, for about a dollar. I went home happy and ready to get started.
I didn’t think to take pictures of the early stages of the piñata but I’m sure you can get the idea – I blew the balloon up to about 18” high and taped a strip of thin cardboard around each end to make a base and a rim. Since I was babysitting that night, "Marcia" got to help me with the first coat of papier-mâché on the body of the vase. The glue – one part flour to two parts water – is kind of gross and oddly icky smelling for something so basic, but it does the job and is satisfyingly cheap and simple to make. We covered the entire balloon with newsprint, lapping over the strips of cardboard to make them one with the vase. I had considered leaving the top of the vase – inside the larger rim of cardboard – open, but Marcia wisely advised me to cover that as well, so that it bulged over the rim of the base.
I figured I needed eight of the shells to go around the top, so I got started molding those as soon as possible. The mold had two pieces, which let me do two shells at a time, laying strips of soggy newsprint across the mold and pressing it down into the ridges as best I could, leaving plenty of excess newsprint around the edges for attaching to the vase. I only did one layer of newsprint for the shells, since they were just for decorative purposes, but I ended up with three layers on the balloon. Before I did the third layer I spaced the (completely dry) shells around the top, loosely taping them in place before attaching them with the final layer of papier-mâché.
When the third layer was completely dry, I popped the balloon – actually a pinprick didn’t do the trick; I had to cut off a chunk of it with scissors to get it to deflate. Marcia’s idea of papier-mâché-ing over the top worked perfectly; with the balloon deflated I was able to punch the convex top of the vase down so that it made a concave well inside the rim, giving the appearance of it’s being open at the top.
At this point the vase already looked pretty cool. One of the neat things about papier-mâché is the curious juxtaposition of random swatches of newspaper that you get. I found myself, as I applied the layers of papier-mâché, picking the more “interesting” side of each strip of newsprint to face up. Sudoku or crosswords won out over large patches of color; large patches of color or photos won out over boring text. Since I happened to have grabbed the Pride Week parade issue of the Metro, you can imagine there were some interesting photos.
I cut a flap in the concave top, dropped in alternating layers of crepe paper, candy, and party crackers (leftover from Christmas but in non-holiday-specific jewel tones), and closed it back up with masking tape, painting over the tape to blend with the vase. (Given more time, I would’ve done this last step with papier-mâché.) Then because I was worried it would be too boring and vase-y and generally non-thrilling to nine-year-old girls, I punched holes in the top and threaded bright silk flowers down through the candy.
I had gotten so used to thinking of the vase as a work of art (however temporal) that I had forgotten to worry how well it would function as a piñata – until we got it strung up outside and a blindfolded Marcia took the first whack. It actually did great. With each whack of the plastic baseball bat (girls these days are surprisingly powerful), the piñata gave a little more, gradually leaking out its treats just as Carol’s favorite vase slowly sprung leaks at the dinner table, but holding out the big bust until each of the five contenders got at least one try.
Thursday, June 19, 2008
Christie suggested having a blog to showcase our personal accomplishments (i.e. creative outlets) and I have to admit the idea had crossed my mind once or twice in the past. However, being the big procrastinator that I have become, I never got around to doing anything about it. So Christie is our blog hero of the week! Woo!
Most of the projects I work on are for other people. I enjoy giving people what I feel are truly loved gifts. Although my end product may not look anything like something you would buy at the store, I hope that the receiver of the gift understands that I took time in making it with love, just for them and with their personality in mind.
I'm very excited about this blog because I feel like all of us are very talented in different ways. We all have failures but most of all, we all have successes. I guess we'll have to show you both. It's kind of embarrassing, but sometimes you have to keep practicing to make things perfect. Yup. That's life.
Also, I'm not nearly as eloquent as Christie so don't expect any posts from me with big words or beautifully written descriptions. That's her forte :) I'm straightforward and goofy and I'm just fine with that.
So enjoy our projects and feel free to ask us questions. The whole point is to share with everyone who loves crafty things, whether it be baking, sewing or et cetera, and encourage others to find their own creative outlet.
Starting with that first little Indian village, there’s been the perpetual issue of what to actually do with all the various things I feel compelled to make, but that very rarely discourages me from starting something new. Lately, though, it means I try to redirect my creative tic towards either ephemeral things (edibles) or into things for other people. (December is a really busy time for me.) I won’t say that I ever regret giving away months of work, or watching a knife slice into one of my “masterpieces”. Sometimes, though, I do wish that I had better documentation of my projects either for my own memory or (I’ll admit) for showing off. That’s why I wanted to start this blog – a way of hanging onto all my various projects without taking up any more space in my apartment, but also a sort of portfolio of what I’ve done that just might inspire other people to make little Indian villages of their own. Not to mention, this blog is really yet another little project for me (and Carrie, and Julie) to work on, and goodness knows we’re always in need of another project.
You might or might not find this all as interesting as I do, but maybe there will be a few ideas you can use, or modify into your own unique project. Welcome to the insanity …