Thursday, April 30, 2009

Project #114 - Sorta Magnetic Pizzas

I lurve miniature food and I lurve magnets, so I put some tiny pizzas together that were supposed to act as refrigerator magnets. Above is a pepperoni pizza, a mushroom and green pepper pizza (my favorite), a black olive and hamburger pizza (Clark's favorite), and a green pepper, tomato, and pineapple pizza.

Sadly, my plan to encase the magnets in the clay didn't work out too well. I swear that the magnets have only a millimeter or two of clay between them and the outside air, but they can't even attach themselves to the fridge without sliding to the bottom, let alone hold up the 3-4 sheets of paper that I expect from my fridge magnets. And this was with super strong neodymium magnets! It's an outrage!

I tested the magnets using some magnetic film, just to see if they maybe got demagnetized in the over or something. Two of my pizzas are to the left and top and a bare neodymium magnet is to the lower right. So, there is some magnetism there, but I guess the field is too diffuse and weak to be useful. I glued some magnets to the outside so now they will finally stick to the fridge, but I liked the concealed magnet better.

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posted by Alison 4/30/2009 10:07:00 PM : (0) comments : splink

Tuesday, April 28, 2009

Project #113 - Turning a Photo to a Silhouette

I made my green screen for a specific purpose: I've been thinking about making my own deck of tarot cards starring people I know. Now, I grew up in the deep south, where even Ouija boards are discouraged from slumber parties because parents don't want their kids messing with the occult. Tarot cards were also off limits, as was the section of the library dealing with UFOs and psychic powers like telekinesis or clairvoyance. Of course, that meant that I read nearly every book in that section while I was a pre-teen, including the entire Time-Life Mysteries of the Unknown series. I don't believe in any of that now, but I might think differently if I hadn't taken the opportunity to read through it exercise my critical thinking skills early on.

Still, I've only actually touched a deck of tarot cards once in my lifetime, at a high school party where I took over briefly for a fortune teller who had to take a trip to the loo. I guessed at the meaning of most of the cards. "Hmm...Death...I think that's bad."

I ran back across the concept of Tarot cards and the Major Arcana when I researched playing cards for my avian deck of cards. I found the system of names, symbols and illustrations to be intriguing, probably more so because they have a big mental 'VERBOTEN' and stamped on them.

My friend Dustin has kindly stepped up to pose for my first card, the Hermit.

First, I took a picture of my subject. The best time to take pictures outdoors is on a cloudy day when there are few shadows or during the morning or evening when the light is a little more mellow. Indoors, it helps to use a light diffuser. In either case, you'll want the green screen to be one color as much as possible.

Next, this is optional, but I usually paint over the extraneous bits of the picture with a prominent color selected from the green screen. It takes a few seconds and makes removing the background easier.

I then selected all of the background in Photoshop using a combination of the magic wand tool and the quick selection tool. If you don't have Photoshop, don't worry. Sumo Paint does almost the exact same things as PS, but it's free and functions in-browser. No need to download and install anything.

In the saturation menu I turned up the lightness in my selection as high as it would go. I then inversed the selection to cover my figure and turned the lightness all the way down.

Silhouettes are a fantastic way to get usable elements out of people who aren't professional models, especially if you are an amateur photographer. It doesn't matter if they are making a weird face, or blinking or wearing weird clothes. (Not that Dustin is doing any of that, though I looked really angry in most of the test shots we took.) It is just a way of capturing their form and reducing it to the most basic elements They're also great for screen printing: one color, only one screen needed, and no need to worry about finicky details.


posted by Alison 4/28/2009 11:59:00 PM : (2) comments : splink

Project #112 - Fried Dandelions

Oh, I also made something else from my dandelion stash from yesterday. I used this recipe and made deep fried dandelions. I know it sounds completely nuts, but they're pretty yummy and crunchy. The recipe was pretty stern about the green part being bitter, but I removed all of the stem and there was not a trace of bitterness left. The taste is a lot like a combination of tempura shiso leaves and tempura broccoli. The petals hold a lot of batter, so it's probably best not to eat more than a few in a sitting unless you're drinking a lot of beer.

I wish I'd taken better pictures of these; this was after most were dished out for dinner. I think I'm going to continue stealing and eating my neighbor's yard.

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posted by Alison 4/28/2009 11:53:00 PM : (0) comments : splink

Monday, April 27, 2009

Project #111 - Sopaipillas with Dandelion Syrup

This is the time of year when I enjoy the sight of dandelions. Usually I curse them when I have to get on my hands and knees and pull them out of my vegetable beds, but in early spring they bloom all at once and cover lawns and hillsides with happy yellow puffs and I can't help but admire them.

The other fantastic thing about dandelions is that they are a free source of food. My neighbor's lawn is covered with tall, poker chip sized flowers, so I took a basket after work and managed to fill it to the brim. There were so many flowers that even after taking over a hundred the yard still looked untouched.

It's weirdly hot for late April, and it's already uncomfortable in my house.* I sat on the porch and trimmed the petals out of my rinsed flowers. My cooking pot was soon filled with a tangle of yellow fluff. I measured it out later and I had a total of about 4 cups of petals.

I covered my petals with a quart of water, just like in this recipe, and set it to boil. I only let the liquid boil for a minute and then let it cool. My recipe recommended leaving it overnight to leech out more flavor, but I found the saffron colored liquid to be very strong tasting after sitting out for only an hour.

I strained the liquid and added an equal volume of sugar and squeezed in a meyer lemon. I placed the mixture on the stove and let it boil down until it had the consistency of a syrup, which took about an hour. The recipe advises against letting the liquid boil, but I was in a hurry to reduce it. In the end, my shortcut didn't seem to affect the taste. I let the liquid cool for a few minutes and then poured it out into a container and left it in the fridge to cool further.

While the syrup cooled I made sopaipillas according to this recipe, but leaving off the honey and cinnamon sugar. As my dough fried I took a few minutes to reflect on the stupidity of boiling and frying things in my tiny kitchen on such a hot day. However, I'm telling you that it is totally worth it for fried dough drizzled in sweetness. The syrup ended up looking and tasting a lot like honey, but with a distinct, pleasant herbal note. That's not bad for something I pulled out of the ground for free.

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posted by Alison 4/27/2009 10:41:00 PM : (0) comments : splink

Sunday, April 26, 2009

Project #110 - Pineapple Upside Down Cupcakes

The two desserts I remember my mother making most often in my early childhood were pound cakes and pineapple upside down cake. The latter was always memorable because of the flipping part and the end. It's a good cake, fluffy and moist at the same time.

I got the sudden urge to make one for myself during a grocery run with my husband. I ran to get a box of mix while he stood in line, but I wasn't quick enough to get the necessary 20 oz. can of pineapple before he finished checking out. I just knew the the box of mix would stay with us until we moved unless I remembered the pineapple the very next time I went grocery shopping.

See, I have the memory of a goldfish. Case in point, I still have a crack in my windshield because I forget about it the second I walk into my house. In fact, I'll probably forget about it again by the time I finish this paragraph. So remembering to buy a random can of pineapple is usually hopeless.

To help jog my memory I left the box of mix on the counter, and the next day I stared at it thinking "Buy pineapple! Buy pineapple!" while washing the dishes. Then, by some miracle instead of wandering away to do some other inane chore, I grabbed my wallet and immediately walked myself back down to the store. Of course, I ended up picking up bacon, cookies, and tomatoes and then stood in line for a few minutes before remembering the whole point of my trip. Still, SUCCESS!

Yay! I could finally make my pineapple upside down cake! The batter for the cupcakes actually came from the leftovers for the cake above, but they were made identically, albeit on a smaller scale. Plus, cupcakes are awesome; they are easy to share.

I put a spoonful of the 1 part melted butter and 1 part brown sugar mixture at the bottom of each cupcake paper and placed a piece of pineapple on top. Next, I poured two heaping tablespoons of cake batter on top. I put the cake in the oven first and then added the cupcakes.

To get my cupcake ready for flipping I lopped off the bulging top so my cake wouldn't tip over. I just pulled off the wrapper and revealed my own little upside down cake. The rest will be going with me to work because tomorrow is grant D-day and we're going to need something for celebrating or wallowing.

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posted by Alison 4/26/2009 11:55:00 PM : (0) comments : splink

Friday, April 24, 2009

Project #109 - DIY Green Screen

I used a green screen to do a lot of the art for my wedding. We made the first one out of green paper from office depot and taped it to the wall in the dining room. Despite being paper, it lasted for a few months with minor repairs. Sadly, by the time the wedding came and went the screen was too tattered to do much and I tossed it as part of spring cleaning.

Still, it would be nice to have a longer lasting green screen solution. This week cheapo poly-cotton fabric went on sale and I bought enough to make a screen at least 7 feet tall with a little extra for standing on.

The fabric was only 45 inches wide, so I sewed a second panel to the side to make it 65 inches wide. The pole came from the hardware store. I sewed a single line of stitching to create a sleeve at the top of the green screen for the pole, a hardware store purchase. I fastened a thick string to both ends of the pole for hanging and kept it from slipping with the application of tacks.

This new screen flutters with the breeze, unlike the old one. When the fabric catches the light it changes in brightness, which can be problematic when removing the background. Still, I was able to remove all of the green after just a few minutes for a test image. Plus, I like how portable and easy to install this screen is. The paper green screen would never have survived a trip outside.

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posted by Alison 4/24/2009 11:15:00 PM : (1) comments : splink

Thursday, April 23, 2009

Project #108 - Tanuki Skirt

It's finally warm enough so that I've been able to spend the last week wearing dresses and skirts instead of pants. I dunno, skirts, at least the kind I like, are just more comfy. I spent yesterday evening squatting over the garden bed pulling out weeds between the rain showers. I always wear a pair of shorts under any skirt, so there is no danger of me flashing anyone. Still, the neighbors must think that I am a little eccentric.

I finished turning my tanuki embroidery into a skirt for this Make-A-Skirt Thursday. The fabric is a nice medium weight linen, so it's sturdy enough for an errand-running skirt. I used my new favorite wardrobe pattern, B5335.

The bottom hem is the perpendicular edge of the fabric. It's been woven in such a way that it will not unravel, but it still looks a little raw and rustic. I'm not sure if I'm in love with the effect, but I might be too lazy to put in a real hem.

It's still a little plain, so I'm thinking about adding more embroidery. I'll be hand washing it anyway, so extra embellishment won't make a difference.

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posted by Alison 4/23/2009 10:58:00 PM : (0) comments : splink

Wednesday, April 22, 2009

Project #107 - Tooth Doodles

I had one of my wisdom teeth removed today. I hate the sound the tooth makes as it gets pulled from the socket, but the whole process only took five minutes and I was sent off without any pain killers. I took an ibuprofen and spent the rest of the day feeling weird and uncomfortable, but not in any pain. I still have all of my wisdom teeth left on my right side, so I was able to eat eggs benedict. Yep, one at a time is the way to go.

My dentist allowed me to take my tooth home saying "It's technically medical waste, but..." The dental assistant placed it in a little white envelope. I waited a little while for it to dry out before opening. It's gruesome, but fascinating. Any realistic drawings would be pretty lurid, and probably take more than I've got right now, so a few cartoon drawings of my tooth in its final moments will have to substitute.

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posted by Alison 4/22/2009 11:20:00 PM : (0) comments : splink

Project #106 - Research Notebook

Professor Peter Bock started me on the path of research notebook devotion when I took my first Machine Learning course at the turn of the century. We were lectured on the importance of them weekly, and somehow keeping a research notebook became one of the few organization habits I retained from my undergraduate career.

When I started graduate school at CMU everyone had one, not just the AI nerds. Despite the fact that nearly everyone owned a laptop and lugged it everywhere, research notebooks were almost universally preferred over anything with a battery. It's a low-tech solution, but it's much less cumbersome to write out charts and diagrams by hand on paper, and computational linguistics is all about using elegant informational figures over plain text.

My notebook goes to and from work with me every day and accompanies me on all my errands and vacations. It functions as a date book, address book, sketchbook and sewing log. I use it as a journal when I go overseas. Pages are filled with to-do lists, crazy ideas, algorithms, recipes, and notes on conference talks. I even have a few pages with diagrams of my company's systems just in case I need to explain it to a visitor on the fly. In short, my research notebook has everything I need in one place.

I'm down to just 5 blank pages in my current notebook, so it's time to break in a new one. I've been through a lot of brands, but my favorite remains the Miquelrius Spot 4 medium-sized spiral notebooks. I have a stack of them in my closet from the time I found them on sale in the CMU art store and bought everything in stock. That was a good day. If all goes well I'll have enough for 10 more years.

All of my research notebooks must be spiral-bound so they'll stay open to the correct page when I leave them on a table. I also like the grid paper, a total necessity for someone whoe draws diagrams frequently. Size is also important. The Spot-4 ones I like are about 6.5 inches by 8 inches, so they fit in a purse and are easy to keep with me at all times.

It's not normal, but I like to glue things into my notebook. I used images from my picture file to sprinkle some mini-collages at irregular intervals throughout the notebook. I also glued in a lot of interesting single images, and pages from my Edward Gorey page-a-day calendar. I have an easier time finding things if I can associate them with a distinct image ("Ah! That was a few pages after the proboscis monkey!"). Plus, I'm more likely to carry my notebook around and flip through it if there are pleasant images inside.

I also draw in a calendar, one quarter at a time as I go on. April's theme is, um, 'Judgmental Otter'. (May's theme: squid!) I also cut in tabs in the lower right hand corner between months. It helps me flip back and forth, and it helps me find my calendar even if the notebook is closed. I just flip through the pages with my thumb on the lower right corner until I hit the ones that don't flip.

I hate ripping out pages from my precious research notebooks (They can't be replaced!), but people look at you a little funny if they ask for a scrap of paper and you refuse even though you're holding a notebook presumably full of paper. So, I always have a few pages of post-it notes that I can hand over with little pain. I also use them to mark important pages or go back later and add notes. It's less cumbersome than carrying around the whole pad.

I also like gluing in a few crossword puzzles on the last few pages. They're good for those unexpected moments of boredom on the bus on in a waiting room. I went through four of these the last time I had jury duty. I also have an envelope glued to the very last page for carrying receipts and miscellaneous items.

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posted by Alison 4/22/2009 01:22:00 AM : (2) comments : splink

Tuesday, April 21, 2009

Project #105 - Tanuki Embroidery

We had a few friends over for a late dinner and/or cupcakes on Saturday. Two of them got into a discussion about some of my projects, including a skirt with an embroidered tanuki on it. Which, is funny, because I've never made an embroidered skirt before, let alone one with a tanuki on it.


I sketched the outline of my tanuki onto my linen using some blue tailor's chalk. I finished the embroidery fairly quickly, but I'll wait to sew the whole thing into a skirt until another Make-A-Skirt Thursday.

Traditional tanukis are depicted with rather prominent...umm...huevos, so those ain't feet at the bottom of the figure. It's comical, but underestimate the mightiness of the tanuki at your own peril.

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posted by Alison 4/21/2009 12:56:00 AM : (1) comments : splink

Monday, April 20, 2009

Project #104 - T-Shirt Dress

I managed to get through sewing all of this dress except for one seam before I started dinner last night. I'm still getting over a nasty head cold so by the time I finished burning the chicken I just wanted to put down my spoon, lay down on the kitchen floor and go to sleep. So, I went to bed without eating dinner and without finishing my dress.

If I had to choose between one or the other it would have been a tough call. I like food, but I also like new dresses, they take the sting out of Mondays.

Knit dresses are one of my favorite ways to scratch an itch for a new dress. They're fast and the good ones are as comfortable as a pair of pajamas. However, good patterns for knit dresses are sometimes few and far between. My solution is usually to take a pattern for a t-shirt, lower the hem and widen from the hips downward. Today's dress was a longer version of last Tuesday's green t-shirt, B5335.

The lengthening process is pretty straightforward. Simply measure the distance between your waist and your desired length and add that amount to the pattern pieces, front and back, with your ruler starting at the waist.

I've converted a few other patterns from shirts to dresses. These two are my favorites:

V2925: This pattern is only two pieces, which is fantastic.

S3835: I added darts to the back of the dress to give it some shape. I made it for my birthday last year.

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posted by Alison 4/20/2009 11:21:00 PM : (0) comments : splink

Saturday, April 18, 2009

Project #103 - Abstract Art Cupcakes

All of our friends have been busy lately, so Clark and I went on cupcake patrol as an excuse to say hi. We drove around town, knocked on doors, and handed out cupcakes to anyone who was home.

The cupcakes are strawberry flavored and from a mix. They are iced with homemade vanilla buttercream and topped with melted chocolate. Even Clark, who is not a dessert person, really liked them.

My vanilla buttercream recipe is super simple and takes about 10 minutes to make. The amounts below would be enough for 18 cupcakes.

  • 1/2 stick softened butter
  • 1 1/2 cups of powdered sugar
  • 1 1/2 tsp of vanilla extract
  • ~2 tbsp milk
Using a fork, combine the butter, sugar and vanilla extract to form a smooth paste. Add the milk little by little and stir until the icing is the desired level of creaminess. Put it in the fridge for a few minutes to firm it up and then spread it on the cooled cupcakes.

I'm so happy that I finally managed to temper a batch of chocolate properly. The chocolate itself was made of 1/2 of a Ghirardelli dark chocolate bar and whatever leftover Easter candy I could find. I melted the chocolate bar in my double boiler. Once it has turned to liquid I removed it from the heat and stirred in some Hershey kisses, miniature Hershey bars and a few more bits of dark chocolate until they melted too.

To make the chocolate wafers I dribbled the melted chocolate in a lattice shape onto a piece of wax paper. I popped each into the freezer for a few minutes to let them harden. While I waited I dipped each cupcake into the leftover chocolate. After the wafers were set I broke each into pieces and shoved them upright into the cupcakes.

It's an interesting effect, but the taller decorations, unfortunately, wilted a bit even in the slight heat. They still tasted the same, though.

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posted by Alison 4/18/2009 10:52:00 PM : (0) comments : splink

Friday, April 17, 2009

Project #102 - Super Basic Website

I paid a visit to a few of my family members out in Beaver County today. They own Wagner's Home Center, a local home improvement store that they built from the ground up over the last three decades. I promised last week at Easter that I would meet face-to-face with them and help them design a web site using my five cents worth of knowledge about web design and search engine optimization. Still, it's nice to help family and it's extra nice to help people who listen to your opinions about what they should do.

They didn't have wireless in the store, but I was able to sit down and crank out the CSS and some of the copy over the course of an hour. I could have kicked myself for forgetting to put any kind of color picker on my laptop because I spent at least 20 minutes tweaking hex codes by hand to build the site color palette. So, the colors look like the came from a very sad crayola box, but I can fix them now that I have returned to the world of modern technology, or once I find a few extra minutes of pro bono time.

I'm just waiting for the domain registration to finally go through so that I can upload what we have now. I promised that I would link to them once that happens, but a screen shot will have to substitute until then. I'll also put up a bigger one when it looks, uh...less bad. Still, it's the thought that counts, right?

I'm a little worried because I only spent a little time explaining how to upload things and make changes to the content. It's a lot to throw at someone who shares an email address with three other people. Still, they were very smart and asked me to keep things simple.

One of my first jobs out of high school was working at a law firm and I made web pages for all of the associates as a courtesy. One of the lawyers one day called me into his office and brought up the Sony home page, which was very slick and white at the time. He pointed to it and said 'I want that!' And to this day I have no idea how that would translate into a legal web page. I was super happy to not have people with the "Whatever you say!" kind of attitude.

We're getting a discount on a new back door from the home center as payment. Clark is excited because the old door was built in the 1920's and was made out of cat hair and hobo dreams. He has spent every winter trying in vain to seal off all of the drafts that seep around the door frame like water through a colander. I, of course, wreck his delicate constructions every time I open the door to check the back garden. He has since given up and takes breakfast in the dining room instead of in the kitchen next to our broken down old door.

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posted by Alison 4/17/2009 12:50:00 AM : (0) comments : splink

Thursday, April 16, 2009

Project #101 - Anteater Cake Toppers

Usually there are two criteria that must be met for me to find a LOL-cats image to be funny:

  1. It must feature an animal that is not a dog or cat. The more exotic the animal is the more I love it.
  2. There must be gratuitous profanity.
I don't know. I think I've seen the picture above a hundred times and it still makes me chuckle.

Plus, anteaters are surprisingly cuddly. I never imagined that an anteater would be fuzzy, but they're adorable. I kind of want one as a pet. We could even team up and have our own natural extermination company. That would guarantee some wacky hijinks, which are better than plain hijinks which are kind of pathetic after a certain age. Man, now I need to go to the zoo this weekend and see if I can bribe the zoo keepers into letting me hold one. I am a bad pet owner, but I love weird animals!

I got the image from F*** You, Penguin and censored it a bit because I don't want my abuela to hit me. Abuelita, do not follow that link. Instead, please look at these tasteful dresses from Ann Taylor. Check out that muted color palette!

Okay, to continue, I had some polymer clay from my female cardinal. She will remain single for the time being, so I used it to make my anteater couple. Now, looking at the picture above and my figurines I'm realizing that they look more like long nosed tapirs than anteaters, but I'm just going to claim artistic license. Hmm, wait, I even know that the long part is a mouth and not a nose and I still screwed it up without thinking. Wow, I wasn't even drinking when I made these.

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posted by Alison 4/16/2009 11:19:00 PM : (0) comments : splink

Wednesday, April 15, 2009

Project #100 - Hiragana Flash Cards

Before I started college I knew no Japanese, but I was really interested in learning. I was a diligent student and made little hiragana flash cards and studied for weeks and practiced my name, even though there is a special alphabet (katakana) reserved for non-Japanese names. Now, almost a decade later, it's my language of choice for yelling at people who cut in line at the grocery store. Seriously, I will cuss out anyone who neglects to notice the line of people already standing there at the self-serve checkouts.

Anyway, I would have like to have something like this when I was just starting to learn all of the characters. Enjoy.

The code for this one isn't pretty, but if you want a copy please leave a comment. I used an older version of Flash to put everything together, so it's in ActionScript 2.0 instead of 3.0.

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posted by Alison 4/15/2009 08:47:00 PM : (4) comments : splink

Tuesday, April 14, 2009

Project #99 - Green Cotton T-Shirt

This shirt took 30 minutes to make, minus the hand stitching around the neckline and hem. That's half an hour to cut out the pieces, sew them together, and take a snack break. I can see why t-shirts are so cheap and plentiful; they're comfy, versatile, and probably take less than 10 minutes for a professional to make.

I was talking to some friends about clothing construction a few months back and it dawned on me that most people still think that clothes are made by big machines where people dump fabric in on one end and finished garments come out the other. It's like talking to suburban kids who have never seen a farm and think spaghetti grows on trees. Nope, there just aren't machines precise and talented enough to do real sewing without a person pushing on the petal. I used to imagine the the pattern pieces would just be stamped out by machine, but now I know there are always people on staff who do nothing but cut fabric in any clothing factory. So it's really not that different from sewing a t-shirt at home, except that the sewing machines are much bigger and faster.

It's weird for such a simple garment, but it's tough to find a pattern that fits just right on the first try, especially one that fits lady curves. I like the raglan sleeve and the high neckline on this pattern. I reminds me of a t-shirt I had years ago and loved, but lost in a chaotic move. It's from B5335, which is turning into one of my new favorite wardrobe patterns. I think I might adapt this into a dress pattern next.

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posted by Alison 4/14/2009 11:27:00 PM : (0) comments : splink

Monday, April 13, 2009

Project #98 - Cardinal Cake Toppers

I've never understood why wedding cake toppers are so effing expensive. Even the boring plastic ones run more than $30 for a set. Plastic birthday cake cowboys, however, are about $1 each, further proof that anything involving the word 'wedding' comes with a premium attached.

That's why I like making wedding cake toppers; it's almost like performing a public service. Today I made a set of cardinal cake toppers out of polymer clay. After I placed the two bright red birds side by side it suddenly clicked in my head that only male cardinals have that kind of coloring. The females are more of a dove gray.

I looked up cardinals to see if there were any sub-species where the females exhibit the same bright red feathers, but nope, it's sexual dimorphism all the way down. I also realized that that means that the queen from my earlier chess set is actually a dude.

So, I made a female bird with the correct coloring. She's sparkly, just like her male counterparts.

But they don't seem to be very interested in her. I don't know, I guess the two male cardinals match the picture in my head better.

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posted by Alison 4/13/2009 09:15:00 PM : (1) comments : splink

Sunday, April 12, 2009

Project #97 - A Replacement of Barrettes

Clark and I went to Church this morning and watched the kids hunt for eggs in the tiny church courtyard afterwords. Most of the eggs were just scattered openly on the ground, but some of the kids seemed to get stumped with the few hidden in the hedges, even the older ones. One nine year old didn't seem to understand us when we hinted that there were half a dozen eggs hidden among the liriope. He replied "I'm nine." when we tried to nudge him in the right direction, eventually his six year old brother figured it out and swooped in and got most of the eggs. Some kids are slow.

Also, Lent is finally over and I celebrated by having two cheeseburgers. Happy Easter!

I had a short break between church and crazy beery family time, so I resupplied my barrette collection. I lose things, especially small things, frequently. I typically find about 80% of my missing items during a deep clean of the house, but the 20% attrition month by month takes its toll. Oh, and I break things frequently, too. Luckily, my record with other peoples' stuff is pretty good because I would die of the guilt.


posted by Alison 4/12/2009 10:50:00 PM : (0) comments : splink

Saturday, April 11, 2009

Project #96 - Marshmallow Poops

Oh man, things are starting to take a scatological theme around here, but I couldn't help it. Baby chicks and bunnies are not easy sculpt out of marshmallow. On the other hand, there is one shape that is awfully easy to dispense from a pastry bag. Poop is to marshmallow fluff as snakes are to balloon animals.

And while I am not an admirer of the real thing (It's stinky!*), I still enjoy cartoon poop and fake poop. That's because poop is effing hilarious, especially if it has a little face and talks to people.

I borrowed this recipe for DIY Peeps from Serious Eats and it only took me 30 minutes from start to finish. Plus, I managed to deal with molten sugar for once without burning myself. Safety high five!

If the poops are thoroughly coated in sugar they will not stick to one another. I think the texture of my mixture is about right for approximating peeps, but the taste isn't quite right. I think the 'flavorless' gelatin I'm using is giving it a slightly off taste. I'm probably the only one who cares, because our visitors managed to hoover up about half of them.

Oh, and my food coloring mix for the perfect brown was 10 drops of red, 4 drops of yellow and 4 drops of blue for 1/2 cup of sugar. I dumped it by the tablespoon on each piece to coat them thoroughly.

*Note to Greenfield Neighborhood cats: Those of you who are using my raised bed as a litter box should stop, especially if you are pooping anywhere near the things I eat. The next time I find a turd while weeding I'm going to mix chili powder into the soil. Please take your kitty number-twos elsewhere. Seriously, be cool.

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posted by Alison 4/11/2009 11:27:00 PM : (2) comments : splink

Friday, April 10, 2009

Project #95 - Beer Bread

Q. What should a good host do if they only have one beer and five guests?
A. Make beer bread

Beer bread makes for a hearty, rich loaf with a subtle beery taste. I'm a supertaster and this is one of the few ways that I can enjoy the taste of beer without making a face. We ate ours after dinner sliced into thick pieces and slathered with butter and jam.

One loaf takes about ten minutes to prepare and forty-five minutes to bake. I'm used to making bread that involves at least four hours of kneading, rising, punching and crying, so it's a nice change to finally have a bread recipe that doesn't demand days of advance planning. *Waves beer bread flag*

I used the easy beer bread recipe from A Year in Bread. My loaf is a bit pale, so next time I will take the advice put forth in the recipe and paint a little egg on top to get a nice brown color.

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posted by Alison 4/10/2009 11:26:00 PM : (0) comments : splink

Thursday, April 09, 2009

Project #94 - Faux-brege Egg

Okay, so this is my third post this week on dyeing eggs and I promise this will be the last one until the next egg-hiding holiday beyond Easter, which I believe is National Infertility Day. (Wouldn't it be cool to have an egg hunt to raise money for infertility? Mark your calendars!) This project is one that will, if handled carefully, will last many years longer than a hard boiled egg. My mother in law has a few similar eggs acting as Christmas decorations.

I don't know where I learned how to hollow out eggs, but I remember making them in middle school and painting them with nail polish. The matter of removing the insides is pretty simple. Just poke holes on either end with a heavy pin or a fork tine. Do it gently, because it is easy to create some pretty big fissures. Oh, I hope you remembered to wash off your egg, because you're going to put your mouth on one end and blow. If you're have a hard time use your pin to break to outer membrane and scramble the yolk. Then drip water bit by bit into one of the openings, shake and blow out until the water is clear. Let your hollow egg shell dry.

I dyed mine after drying it for a while. I left it in the dye bath for a few hours to get the intense red color. I let it dry and then glued all of the gold crap to it with mod podge and silicon glue.


posted by Alison 4/09/2009 10:03:00 PM : (0) comments : splink

Wednesday, April 08, 2009

Project #93 - Light Bulb Time Capsule

One of the light bulbs in the bathroom burnt out while my husband was brushing his teeth this evening. The fixture is some kind of infernal contraption, so the bulb can't be removed without a pair of pliers and an substantial amount of grunting. My husband was still worn out from his spring cold, so I offered to take over and sent him to bed.

It took about 20 minutes of ginger maneuvering to finally get the ancient bulb loose. Based on the thickness of the layer of dust and the condition of the bulb it looked like it had been there since at least the first Bush administration, far predating my time living in Pittsburgh. Maybe my new light bulb will be in place long after Clark and I move on. Maybe it would be fun to make a little time capsule to let future residents know some history about this place.

When I purchased my house I had a few seconds at closing to ask some questions about the history of the house. I pulled out a archival permanent marker and wrote all I could remember, plus some more recent details:

"Hello! The first person to live in this house was a dentist. Later a steel worker and his wife bought it and raised two sons here. In 2004, a computational linguist bought this home, married, and brought her husband to this place. Please take good care of this house!"

The bulb is hidden under a milk glass shade and probably won't be disturbed until it burns out again. Despite the writing, it gives off the same amount of light as its twin on the other side of the medicine cabinet.


posted by Alison 4/08/2009 10:53:00 PM : (2) comments : splink

Tuesday, April 07, 2009

Project #92 - Embellished Easter Eggs

True story: I had to look up instructions yesterday on how to boil an egg. I didn't know that the eggs should be placed in a pan of cold water and then brought to a boil. I probably would have just ended up with sad, exploded eggs without the power of the internet. I'm not a fan of the texture of hard boiled eggs, so I've never made one for myself. My husband, however, thinks that they're a great snack and out of love I made a few extra today for him to pack with his lunches.

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posted by Alison 4/07/2009 11:58:00 PM : (0) comments : splink

Monday, April 06, 2009

Project #91 - Illustrated Easter Eggs

I spent most of my evening after work visiting a friend in the hospital. When I dropped by on Saturday we attempted to assemble a puzzle and she spent most of the time nodding off, I presume from a combination of pain killers and utter boredom. I wanted to be better prepared today, so ran home after work and dyed some Easter eggs for some in-hospital crafts time. Coloring is fun!

My friend slept most of the evening (yay!), but I always feel a little weird hanging out with someone while they're asleep (boo!). I'm never quite sure what to do with myself; luckily I have markers to keep me company!.

I drew on a few of the eggs while sitting in the semi-darkness. Drawing on convex surfaces is doubly difficult while squinting. The machines, tubes, and wires that dominated the wall opposite my seat inspired most of the drawings on my first egg.

FACT: People can inherit allergies from transplanted organs. My friend was allergy free until her multi-organ transplant, but afterwords she couldn't eat milk or eggs without a reaction. These Easter eggs will have to be appreciated only in the visual sense.

Later, a pair of nice, crafty ladies joined me on bedside duty. They seemed happy to have an activity to occupy their time, so we had an egg coloring party...a quiet egg coloring party.

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posted by Alison 4/06/2009 11:58:00 PM : (0) comments : splink

Project #90 - Yellow and Black Dress

It was so windy today that I got knocked down twice by particularly nasty gusts while trying to weed the garden. I'll take any sign that tells me to stop weeding and do something else. It's a chore that never fails to leave me cranky and grumpy.

I've made yet another dress this year that will have to wait in the closet a few days for more pleasant weather. I heard that there was a good chance of sleet and snow tomorrow. Winter flips one final bird at the city before departing for a few months every April. When I first moved here I would usually fall for the first few warm days of spring and plant my doomed seedlings too early and put away my winter clothes. This, of course, would explain my complete inability to grow cucumbers or melons year after year, because when I say 'when I first moved here' that included everything up until a few months ago. Still, I'm not going to fall for it this year and I won't have a late frost yank the football out from under me.

Still, I'm prepared for the hot days ahead. Cotton and billowy skirts are a definite win for people who live in homes without air conditioning.

I lost the second page of directions to this pattern, so I ended up guessing. I think it's a sign of my improved skills as a seamstress that for once I didn't end up with three sleeves, or an upside down skirt for once. Small victories are nice.

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posted by Alison 4/06/2009 12:19:00 AM : (4) comments : splink

Friday, April 03, 2009

Project #89 - Lino Block Initials

I learned how to carve linoleum blocks in high school, and I've made a new one every year since. I used last year's to print our post-wedding thank you cards. Linoleum takes a little more muscle to carve than rubber blocks, but you can put a lot more detail into a smaller space. The result looks a lot like a wood block print and the overall effect can be textured and rustic looking.

There are a few ways to plan out the carving. It's possible to draw directly onto the block. In this case, because I'm using text and it will need to be reversed I printed the letters into cardstock and cut them out with an x-acto knife. I used to write everything backwards as a kid, but these days I'll just screw it up if I try to write in reverse.

Next, using the v-shaped cutting attachment carve a border around your figure. You'll want to have something to lean against as it's really easy to slip and cut yourself if your holding the block in your hand. I managed to cut myself twice before remembering this.

Then using the rounded cutting attachment cut away the larger areas that you don't want to print.

Once you're done cutting dust the stray bits off of your block to prepare it for inking. Roll out the block printing ink onto a smooth, flat surface like a piece of glass using a brayer. You'll know if you've used the right amount of ink when it makes a sizzling noise as you run the roller over it. Now, run the roller over your stamp, making sure the ink is even.

Press your stamp onto your paper. The paper will stick so that you can turn the whole thing over. If you want thorough ink coverage rub your design with a spoon. Peel off the paper and you'll have your design.

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posted by Alison 4/03/2009 10:44:00 PM : (0) comments : splink

Thursday, April 02, 2009

Project #88 - Eulogy for a Frog

Yesterday, after I got home I looked in my frog's tank and for the first time she didn't run away and hide as soon as she noticed me. Not good. I buried her in the backyard before my husband had the misfortune of seeing her like that. There was one uneaten cricket who gleefully jumped out of her cage when released in the backyard, the lone survivor of an insect Battle Royale.

I've never owned a pet that actively disliked my presence the way that Skinny did. She spent almost all of her time squatting in her cave, trying to hide as much of her body as possible. She would only leave it at night and if she thought we weren't home, although it was possible to catch an unsheltered Skinny stalking crickets if we approached quietly. Skinny always looked completely busted when spotted and any sudden movements would send her scrambling back to her hidey-hole.

Skinny was 3 years old when she died. We raised her from a fat, constantly pooping tadpole into a silent, shy adult. We started out with two tadpoles, Skinny and her gluttonous brother, Fatty. He died after eating too many crickets at once. Skinny never made the same mistake. She only ate when she was hungry and some crickets would wander terrified around her pondscape for days until she was ready to finally partake.

It's weird to live again in a house with zero pets. I suppose this is a sign that we shouldn't be pet owners...or parents.

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posted by Alison 4/02/2009 11:37:00 PM : (1) comments : splink

Wednesday, April 01, 2009

Project #87 - Indoor Plantings

Starting seeds indoors always feels a little like gambling. Most of my seeds are from last year or the year before, so I'm not sure how many are going to germinate. Will being frugal pay off? Or will I be left with a half-empty seed tray?

I know what I am doing with some of these plants and I'll get a second or third chance with some of the others. I've killed some of my plant varieties two years in a row through neglect (forgetting to water), laziness (letting the weeds go crazy) and stupidity (setting out seedlings without hardening them off). I'm trying to be more even and disciplined about gardening; I'm trying to think ahead and keep up with maintenance. I hope I've learned enough lessons so that I don't kill off 75% of my indoor plantings again. I would really like to have more than one home grown cucumber a year.

Oh, and the egg garden is doing well, even if I did accidentally kill the parsley. 5 out of 6 is better than my usual failing marks.

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posted by Alison 4/01/2009 11:54:00 PM : (0) comments : splink

Project #86 - Bird Themed Playing Cards, Part 1

My mother's family is gigantic (she has 16 living siblings), so there is always someone around for a game of cards. Whenever at least three Wagners gather there will be at least one game of Shanghai. Summers with my cousins were filled with games of Bulls*** and Egyptian Rat Screw. Everyone learned to bridge shuffle as soon as their hands were large enough. No one ever bets on family card games, but the winner is always the one who has to sort cards back into their respective decks and put them away.

My mom always buys a new deck when on vacation, but we still have playing cards from back when Delta dispensed them to passengers for free. (And little soaps! I miss them.)

So, I associate ordinary playing cards with warm family memories, the times when we weren't breaking up fist fights or calming grandpa down. I've always wanted to take the time to design my own deck. I had the snappy idea to make my own deck based on birds, which is a motif that I never get tired of.

I started with the clubs suit, which is represented by flightless birds. Most of the illustrations came from my own sketches, but I did get help from photographs for a few. You can probably tell which is which my the wonky feet. Somehow, I still draw them the same way as when I was 8 years old. Man, bird feet are hard.

A: Ostrich, 2: Kakapo, 3: Weka, 4: Wild Turkey, 5: Kiwi, 6: Lesser Rhea, 7: Kagu, 8: Emu

9: Greater Auk, 10: Takahe, J: Dodo, Q: Cassowary, K: Emperor Penguin, A: Ostrich, again


posted by Alison 4/01/2009 08:51:00 AM : (0) comments : splink

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