Monday, December 8, 2014

Mushu Dragon Head - Carving the Foam

I carved the Mushu head tonight.  

I had other things to do, but I thought, I'll just try this for a few minutes and see how it goes. Haha.

I started with what you see below.  

Basically, I took off the parts that seemed to pronounced.  I tried to make the whole thing a bit more sleek.  You know, if you can call a costume head made of foam "sleek." 

I can see that I'll probably have to fill in a few spots, in addition to finishing the ears and the edges underneath.   Each touch up with require another can, since I can see how the stuff would definitely gum up the nozzle and most like not work a second time.  

You definitely don't need a serrated knife to cut this, but your knife DOES have to be sharp.  I used a regular box cutter, so I kind of had to gouge and tear off pieces, but it was not TOO bad.  A sharp, longer, flexible knife life a filet knife would probably be much better, but who wants to dull their good knife on a block of foam?  

I still think I'm probably going to cover it with fabric scales anyway, but I'm not sure. Either way, I believe I'll have to coat it in glue first to keep the foam from melting.  

Mushu Costume head and lower jaw - made of carved Great Stuff.

I didn't realize until I was done that there were two teeth on that lower jaw.  It will need a bit more carving after the foam patch job, I guess.  More in a few days...  

Saturday, December 6, 2014

Mushu Dragon Head - Spray Foam Coat

I have been procrastinating.  
I procrastinate when I'm worried.  

Well, that's one of my reasons, anyway. 

So this evening I sprayed the Mushu dragon head.  I was worried about the mess it would make, how it would stick to the form, if I would be able to carve down to the shape I had originally intended, etc.  You name it, I worried about it.  But you know, procrastinating doesn't answer these questions, it just delays the inevitable. 

I decided to spray in the basement.  I didn't need the hyperactive dog shooting her dog hairs on it (or worse, taking a taste, or stepping in the drips) while it was still wet.  I have had it perched on a copper kettle for a while so I could look at it at the correct angle, so I wrapped the kettle completely in plastic wrap.  I perched the kettle on a rubbermaid tote and topped the tote and the floor around it with newspaper.  I am usually a really neat painter, but this stuff it completely unforgiving.  I read the can before I got started - it says that you can remove the WET stuff with acetone (a chemical in nail polish remover) but the dry stuff will have to wear off… OMG, will have to wear off… it's one of the reasons I decided to spray in the basement.  

I shook the can really really well as directed, put the spray nozzle on and promptly broke one side of it off while pressing down.  CRAP.  When I finally got it going, it came SHOOTING out, expanding like a son-of-a-gun, pretty much obliterating any form I had made.  The first thing I sprayed it on was the lower jaw.

I covered the ends with plastic wrap because I'm going to cover those with fabric and then add velcro so that it can attach to the headpiece on the sides, so the actor's head is completely encircled. 

I cannot say enough that this stuff is SO DAMN STICKY that there was not even a CHANCE that I could do both sides of the jaw at once.  I sprayed what I could reach and figured I could always peel the newspaper off the edges when the foam was dry. I'm going to carve it down a bit anyway.  

I moved on to the head.  Finally I started spraying very slowly so I got a finer stream of foam. I moved the nozzle back and forth, but as I did, a ball of foam clung to the end of the nozzle (did I say this is THE stickiest stuff on earth?  It is.)

I sprayed around the eyes, leaving the centers open, then pressed the eyes into place and sprayed around them to hold them in.  I had covered them with plastic wrap also so that I can just peel or cut it off after the foam is dry and I will have two perfectly clean eyeballs.  

As the foam built up, it started weighing down my armature, which made me worried.  I hadn't planned on that.  

I propped up the horns with an aluminum tray I quickly found in the basement.  It's disposable. 

I propped up the ears with a paper plate.  I knew I couldn't spray the underneath parts and I had prepared by greasing a shish kebob skewer with vaseline in hopes of preserving the remainder of the can for use tomorrow.  But guess what?  I ran out of foam anyway.  

So, I hard press on the nozzle makes the foam come out quickly but that foam seems to be much lighter and more airy.  When you press lighter, you get a smaller stream, but it seems to expand less and be denser. I would say that the optimal use would be to press the nozzle harder, but move the can quickly and deliberately across your surface.  In the middle left of the picture above you can see where I tried to  use the end of the nozzle to stick two sides of the foam together to cover a hole - the only thing that happened was it made a clump of foam which stuck to the nozzle, tore out a section and dropped with a plop to the newspaper.  Lesson learned.

I will need at least another can for the underside, and possibly a third can for touch ups.

Back to Home Depot. 

We'll see what it looks like tomorrow when it's dry.   

Sunday, November 23, 2014

Keepin' it Real - Making Adjustments to the Mushu Head Armature

I started the armature for the Mushu headpiece a few days ago, and then I stared at it for a few days.  I stared at it and thought, "It's too bulky."  At first I thought I would cover it in Great Stuff (spray foam) and smooth it out, making a coating all around.  But the friend who did the bulk of the spraying on The Little Mermaid set pieces for me advised against trying to manipulate Great Stuff before dries.  I realized that with the armature so large already, it would leave me little room for carving.  If I spray it and decide, "this edge needs to be taken down," but I can't because it's the edge of the screening, that would be a big problem.

So today I went to Walmart and bought some carpet thread and some yarn darning needles (big, fat, long needles), and I did a little slenderizing of Mushu's head.  I cut his nose straight down the center, overlapped and sewed it.  I cut the side of the face and overlapped and sewed them, bringing the whole thing down and making it narrower from left to right as well.  I was happy with the results.  I think it leaves me more room for a thicker layer of foam.  I might still do some fiddling, but it's a lot closer to the result I was looking for.

Today my dad gave me back the clear plastic Christmas ornaments I had asked him to cute in half for me.  They came out exactly how I wanted them (good old Dad! - instead of putting them in a vice and using a Dremel to cut them, he put the Dremel in the vice and moved the ornaments to cut them - great idea!).  I also picked up some black and some white tissue paper at Walmart as well as slippers for the actor's feet and a PERFECT red velour sweatsuit.

I painted the inside of each half of the clear ornament with Mod Podge and stuck first black tissue (for the pupils) and white tissue paper (for the whites of his eyes).  

My next challenge will be covering the armature with spray foam while avoiding enough of the eye space so that I can put lights inside the headpiece to get his eyes to light up.  Maybe this is overkill, but I they can always not use them.  I just thought it would look cool.  Like this:

Just a little glow.

I also attached his horns, which seem to poke out the back of his head in a very low direction and his ears, which look kind of like donkey ears.  There's a notch in one of them, which I added also.  Hope I don't lose the location of it when I cover it with spray foam.  

Here's a side view of how he looks now:

I still have to form a bottom jaw which will attach to each side of this, leaving a hole for the actor's face in his mouth.  I stopped cause I'm a bit stymied.  I need to think about how to best accomplish that.  Do I spray it separately and attach it later?  Should it be hinged, or stationary?  Maintaining a hole in the middle for the face of the actor makes it so much more difficult! 

  More in a couple of days!

Tuesday, November 18, 2014

Mushu Dragon Head - taking shape!

beginning stage of Mushu dragon costume headpiece

I can't procrastinate any longer.   I started the head, and I'm worried.  After taking this picture, I'm not sure if it's going to look as sleek as I wanted it to, but it's really hard to tell at this stage.  Here's how I got to this stage…

I cut a strip of screening about 9 inches wide, and about 30 something inches long.  Thirtysomething is not very precise, but I tried to leave enough of a flap on the bottom for the flap to reach down the actor's back.  I folded it back on itself so that it forms the upper half of the jaw.  My thought was at the actor's head would sit comfortably in that semicircular piece of screening that you see toward the middle of this photo.  I glued that semicircular piece to the back (trying hard not to burn myself with the hot glue in the process). 

At this point I remembered the one thing I hate about wire fencing/screening of any sort.  It stabs the hell out of your fingers!  I then edged each cut end with duct tape.  It was helpful on that first day, but today is two days later, and the tape is no longer stuck on both sides of the wire.  

I cut a piece of pool noodle and glued it between the layers so they don't sag together when I add more layers.  Pool noodles = bad idea - they melt like CRAZY with the hot glue.  Maybe a cool glue gun would work, but I saw some melting even when I thought the glue had cooled.  Next time I'll just used rolled cones of screening, even though that presents its own problems…

I attached another strip of screening across the top of the "head" from one side of the jaw to the other.  Then I cut into it in several places and overlapped the flaps to "round" out the part that will be the back of the head, and the part that will be the front of the face. 

I remembered how much glue drips through the screening and thought, "Hey, I'll try a stapler for some of these jobs!" My first good idea of the night.  I used the stapler to attach a fatter part to the end of the upper jaw.  I also cut out some oval eye shapes and will attach those next time.  

I think I'm going with the spray on Great Stuff, but I'll admit, I'm scared.  If it turns out badly, I'll have to start over since Great Stuff is incredibly sticky and messy.  I also think I may have to attach another piece of wire to the back flap - not sure it's long enough.  

The bottom jaw is going to be a separate piece, but will somehow attach to the top piece and fit comfortably around the actor's face.  Still working that out.  More at the end of the week. 

Saturday, November 15, 2014

Dragon Head Dilemmas

supplies to make the armature for a Mushu costume head
This year I am making not one but two different dragon costumes.  One is a single-person dragon costume - the dragon in Mulan, who is called Mushu (voiced in the movie by Eddie Murphy).  The other dragon is, as far as I know, just called "Dragon" and she is the dragon in the Shrek movies.  I'm not complaining, I like this sort of challenge, but it's a little daunting.

Mushu is a tiny dragon - if you remember the movie, you might remember that Eddie Murphy says he is "travel sized for your convenience."  He's a fraction of the size of the main character, Mulan, and I picture him more like a slithery lizard with legs than a typical dragon.  I don't really care for Mushu costumes I've seen online - he seems too thick and cumbersome compared to the dragon you see in the movie.  My goal is to make a costume that's a bit more form fitting, but with recognizable scales, large but not goofy feet, and a head that has a dragon shape but does not look overlarge with a thin, lithe body.

"Dragon" is the dragon in Shrek.  She is a female dragon with a HUGE presence.  She has wings and flies in the movie.  After doing my online homework, I've seen this dragon created in multiple forms.  There is the single person, conventional costume, but that does not have a huge presence, there is the multi-person dragon-puppet on sticks that literally hovers in the air above the actors' heads (this is MY personal favorite, but admittedly, probably the most expensive and most technically challenging to make AND maneuver), and then there is the multi-person costumed dragon, in which multiple people wear parts of the costume, and together they create the whole dragon.   The Shrek director wants to go with this last option, and the nice thing about it is that it will give a small group of students a chance to be seen on stage, in costume, and have an important job to do.  For Dragon, we'll make a large headpiece that will be worn by the main Dragon actress, there will be Dragon wings, a Dragon tail, and maybe others - not sure about those - they would have dancing parts.

So my first challenge for each dragon is the head.  Mulan is the first play (by two months) so I'm making that head first.  Since it's a smaller presence on stage, I think I should also make the head smaller, which should be technically easier.  At first I thought I'd go with the Attach-it-to-a-baseball-type-hat idea, but I scratched that idea when I realized that due to the long snout/mouth, it will still be front-heavy enough to still be constantly tipping forward.  To counteract this problem, I'm going to make the back of the head long enough to stretch down the actor's back a bit and then strap around the arms on each side, or across the chest under the arms.  The body of the costume will have a crew neck and should cover this support piece on the head and keep it concealed.  This part is going to be double cast as well, and since the two actors chosen are very different in height, I won't have to make two completely different costumes to accommodate their different heights, maybe just two different pairs of pants (or maybe not, but more on that later).

The parts you see in the picture above are for the armature for the Mushu dragon head.  My plan is to form a rough shape with the aluminum screening (gluing the pieces together with the glue gun) and add rounded bulk with the pool noodles, which are fairly inexpensive - $2.00 each at Walmart).  The plastic Christmas balls are going to be cut in half for the eyeballs.  I was thinking of lighting them up on the inside with battery operated lights, but that will be my surprise if it works out - Shhhhh!!  Today it also occurred to me that this might be a good use for Great Stuff - that spray foam insulation, but since it's SOooooo messy, I'm going to see how good it looks without that stuff first.  

Off to work for me.  I can't procrastinate on this one, since other people are depending on me!

Wednesday, November 12, 2014

November Sky

This afternoon at work, I overheard someone comment while looking out the window, "If that's not a November sky, I don't know what is…" and so, when I headed out to my car a short while later, I snapped this picture.

Yes, I'd say that's a November sky.  Isn't it beautiful?

Everyone talks about spring and summer days, but poets and painters... they must love November.  All that complicated light… the depth and subtlety…  How could you not appreciate it?

November is that moment in The Wizard of Oz when Dorothy reaches the house in Kansas, whips open the door, struggles to get inside and manages to close the door.  It's that moment when you realize that life is huge, more powerful than you will ever be and you'd better just hold on and enjoy the ride.

Take a moment and appreciate November. 

Sunday, October 26, 2014

Halloween Costume Crisis Averted

Today I took my almost-13-year-old daughter to the store to buy a Halloween costume.  As much as I like to sew, I've never made a Halloween costume for a couple of reasons. When her older brother was a year old I After made him a leopard costume which cost roughly 70.00 and took me approximately a week to create.  After going to Costco and seeing an almost identical costume for about 35.00, I decided I'd buy his costumes from then on.  When my daughter was of the age of knowing what she wanted to be for halloween, for several years in a row she picked a different Disney princess, and it was of the utmost importance that the princess look accurate, which reinforced my Costco habit, after all, 35.00 beats 150.00 any day, unless you have a prayer of winning a large cash award in a costume contest.

So today, my daughter and I headed out to a local party store to check out the costume options.  We had looked around here before, but nothing motivates her to settle on a choice like a looming deadline.  We headed for the store's costume wall, where pictures of their hundreds of options are displayed.

"What are you thinking about getting?"  I asked her.

"I was thinking about a peacock…"

Now, I could have made an awesome peacock costume for her, but with only a few days left that was no longer an option.

"Where do you see that?" I spotted one on the wall and pointed to it. "This one?  Diva Peacock?" It was not really what I had in mind.  Where was the recognizable peacock shape in the feathers?

"No, this one." She pointed to Ravishing Peacock. It definitely looked more peacock-like, but it also looked more Vegas.  She said,  "I like it, but I would have to wear leggings underneath, and how could I cover up the top a little bit?  Could I wear a sweater?  They should call this one 'Slutty Peacock,'"  We laughed.

"Let's look at our other options"

First, let me establish that she did not like the "Teen" costumes.  Some of them were cute, but she wore a bunch of them already in previous years.  A whole bunch of them were dorky, and unrecognizable.  If you didn't hold a cardboard sign in your hand stating what you were, no one would know.  There were many more options in the adult costume section.

But that presented another problem.  Every skirt was short. And when I say short, I mean MICROSCOPIC.  Many of the tops were low cut or strapless.  And what was with the names?  It's like they found all their adjectives in a romance novel.  She decided she wanted to try on the peacock costume. When wen told the salesgirl, our choice, and she announced, "651, Ravishing Peacock, size S" into her microphone. We had Igloo Cutie as a back-up choice.

We checked out the costume titles on the wall while we waited, and my daughter joked that soon they would be shouting, "ONE SLUTTY PEACOCK COSTUME, COMING RIGHT UP!!"  There was Nerdy and Flirty,  (Wow, even nerds are flirty here!) Perky Plumber (Mario and Luigi turned female and sexy!) Nurse Juanna B. Sedated kind of scared me - it reminded me of something you might see in a porno/horror movie.  What nurse wears an ultra short skirt and high heels and carries a large needle in a threatening way? Sultry Swat Officer was just ridiculous… yes, those swat officers find micro mini skirts and bursting cleavage very practical when they tackle bad guys in the line of duty.

Finally, the Ravishing Peacock arrived.  She tried it on.

"What do you think?"  I shouted through the dressing room door.

"I don't like it," she said.  It was too low cut, (required too much cleavage) too thin, in her opinion, and all squished from being in the package.   She settled on a pair of black feathered angel wings, a black tutu (with lights in it!) and a black feathered mask.  "Like the angel of death?" her dad asked when she got home.  "Yeah, I guess so,"  she said.  She will be wearing her own leggings and her own shirt.  We still managed to spend 60 something dollars, but we have remained age-appriopriate.

Navigating parenthood one day at a time...

Tuesday, October 14, 2014

FINISHED Sugar Skull Mask

After finishing the paper mache and lightly sanding with fine grit sandpaper, I sketched a face and some decorative accents.  I painted the eyes and teeth first, then added the leaves, colored flowers and dots (which you can't really see in this picture).  I had pink, silk Gerber Daisies leftover from my Over the Top Headband project, and I cut them apart and hot-glued them around the eyes to make that sugar skull floral look I love so much.  You could maybe alter this for a Halloween mask if you cut eye holes in the black areas and hot glued a couple of elastic bands across the back.  Not bad for a first attempt, if I do say so myself.

Unless this is your first time reading this blog and you never look at post dates, you probably realize I'm in a post drought.  I found out at the end of this past school year that I was being transferred to another building in September. I felt a bit like my work-world tipped onto its side and stayed there.  It's not terrible, the people are nice enough and I still have a job, which is what really counts, but you never realize how much you depend on your work friends until you no longer have them around every day.

I've offered to help my friend troubleshoot ideas for costumes for the play she's doing, and I also somehow volunteered to help out with the next play at my daughter's former school.  I'll be honest, I was going to volunteer anyway, but it seems I had signed up before I was sure what I was signing up for.  Not complaining - it's nice to be appreciated. Work has not started on either play, however.

In the mean time, my husband alternates between complaining and being extremely tolerant of my "art shit" (I like to call it, "craft crap") around the house.  There must be a lesson in here, somewhere, I'm just not sure what it is.

So I go about my business, adjusting to a new school year, my new work digs, and an undefined blog focus, and I try to finish projects I start, which is a new rule for me.  Keep going, even when you hate it.  I'm getting better at that.  Sometimes I even like the result, even though it's not what I thought it would look like.

Hummm… maybe that's the lesson I was looking for in this.

Thursday, August 28, 2014

Turn Back Thursday - happy childhood memories

This is the fountain in my Italian grandparents' backyard. This picture is from June of 1979.  I loved this yard, especially this fountain.  My dad designed the shape of the pond at the base - it's a circle and a square combined - and together they made the mold and poured the concrete.  People tell me it's an Italian thing, the working with concrete.  My grandfather kept gigantic, fancy finned goldfish in the pond that he brought in the house and kept in a basement tank each winter.  One spring, before he put the fish in the pond, he let me walk around in it while it was filling with water.  It was icy cold, but I ran around the pond, taking advantage of the fact that after admiring it for years, I was finally able to jump into the water.   On one of my laps, I scratched my leg the pedestal in the center; it gave me a scar that I'm happy to still have, because it's attached to that wonderful memory.

The garden was set on a steep hillside.  On the very left of the picture, the garden ends, dropping off down a fairly high cement wall that backed the neighbors behind.  I'm sure my grandfather built that wall as well.  Huge leaved ivy covered the back of the house, which was just outside the picture's view to the right.  Bees used to hide behind those ivy leaves in summer, so I tried never to disturb them as I ran past, on that walkway that you see moving toward the back of the photo.  The walkway ended with a wooden gate that always swung open and closed in complete silence until the latch clicked, courtesy of the contraction skills of Uncle Pat, whose real name was Pasquale. Beyond the gate, a right turn, a few steps and stairs - just one or two.  Then, after a short walk on a curved pathway of grass lined with giant dahlia plants, you would come upon a decorative cement tub with a wall attached, and a spout coming from the wall that would pour water into the tub when turned on.  It was a magical little place, like something you would find in a book like the Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe.

And all over, there was the spicy smell of tea roses.  My grandfather would cut them, and my grandmother would put them in a bowl on the dining room table…

Excuse me, I have a fountain of my own to build...

Friday, July 18, 2014


A few minutes ago, my (almost 15 year old, taller and stronger than me) son comes downstairs to tell me there is a HUGE-ASS bug in his room, and can I please take it out?  He hates bugs.  It's one of the few things that will tear him away from a video game trance.

It's HUGE, he tells me, it's a cicada.  I'm not even sure there are cicadas around this year, but he's swearing up and down that it's a cicada because "It's clicking so loud I could hear it through my (video game) headset."  You know, there comes a time in every kid's life when you turn over the bug-getting directly to your child.  Mostly because you are just DONE with bug killing.  To complicate matters, this bug is in the "too big to squish" category.  According to my definition, bugs are too big to squish when I can actually hear them crunching if I step on them.  It's not really fair for the little bugs, but the big bugs get a break here because the crunch noise they would make would give me an automatic picture what's going on under the tissue or my shoe, and I just can't deal with that.  Anyway, I try to explain to my son that he can put a cup over it, then sliiiiide a paper under the cup, and walk the bug outside to freedom.

NO WAY, he tells me.  It might attack me if I do that.  YOU have to do it.   By the way, this is the same boy who tells me he wants to join the marines.  

So I grab a plastic cup and a perfume ad from the kohl's flyer, and I head up to his room.

Ok, so it was pretty large.  Definitely not the largest bug I've ever seen around here - that distinction probably goes to the nasty beetles that fly into the window screens on summer nights and sound like bees on steroids.  I've had them fly into my head once or twice before and they FREAK me out every time.  No, this guy was definitely prettier.  A nice green color body, about 3 inches long and flattish. Reminiscent of a praying mantis, but with a much bulkier body.  He was perched high up on the wall next to my dear child's unmade bed.  Excellent.  So if I accidentally killed it, bug guts would fall into the sheets and blankets and the complaining would just change to a different topic.

I stepped up on the bed with my cup, eyed my prey and aimed for complete coverage.  But I didn't realize he was looking back at me.  He took off toward my head, buzzing like an electric fan, and I tried to simultaneously keep my shit together, wave him off, and not drop my cup. Success, except for the fact that now he landed on the ceiling.

My second try achieved full bug-coverage.  I slid the perfume ad between the ceiling and the cup and removed the cup from the ceiling.  He was very quiet in there (unlike those NASTY big beetles -  you have to keep shaking the cup to keep those guys off-kilter or they'll climb right up the cup and ATTACK you when you remove the paper on top.  HATE those things…) which was a relief.

I walked this pleasant enough green guy outside, stopping to get my phone on the way.  I 'd take a picture of him and post it on Facebook - HA!  I thought, that's what he gets for asking me to take care of a bug for him when he's almost 15!      

I put the cup on the porch railing, got the phone ready and aimed it at the top of the cup.  I took the perfume ad off the top and peered into the cup to see the subject of my photo.  Was he still in there?  I snapped a picture and then he flew out, right at my head.

Here's the picture I took.  He was already climbing up the side of the cup,  getting ready to spring...

I'm sure the neighbors heard my screech…

The bug-getter in the house never gets any sympathy.

Monday, July 7, 2014

Don't Be Jealous of My Harry Potter Wand Pens - Make Your Own!

When you work in a highly trafficked area, you need pens that stand out - pens that would look foolish in anyone else's hands.  Hence, the Harry Potter-like Wand Pen.

I found a tutorial to make these pens on YouTube.  I'm not very adept at putting links in here, but if you copy this and put it in your browser, you'll get to the right place…

NerdECrafter gives a decent description of how to make your own wand-pen, but I made an improvement to this procedure, and I think it's worth noting.

The disposable pens featured in the video are Bic pens with opaque plastic casings.  I've used these pens before to make polymer clay covered pens, and I was successful.  See this post:

I did NOT use aluminum foil to hold the opening for the pen ink, and I did also take out the ink tube itself.  I used the plastic casing in the baking process, and it didn't melt.  HOWEVER, I could have just been lucky - who knows!

THIS time, I purchased Bic Cristal ball point pens and I had a problem with my first batch.  I removed the ink tube but left the crystal clear plastic tube inside the polymer clay before baking.  The 275 degree baking temperature for my clay also melted and SEVERELY SHRANK the plastic tubing, causing it to crack the polymer clay covering.  That batch went into the trash.

Next, I used the aluminum foil method proposed in this video, HOWEVER, I wrapped the foil around a bamboo shishkebob skewer, noting that the ink tube was just lightly smaller than the bamboo skewer. I got a perfectly sized hole for my ink, but when I tried to insert the ink, the aluminum foil squished inside the tube and clogged the chamber.  CRAP!!  I suspect even if I hadn't used the bamboo skewer, this still would have happened, since the aluminum foil seems to stick to the clay during baking.

The Good News:  Finally, I decided to cover my bamboo skewers with petroleum jelly INSTEAD of aluminum foil and I had success!! After baking the skewer slid right out of the polymer clay covering with just a little bit of twisting.  I left the skewer inside the clay for the next baking, when I added the decorative tops pieces on top.

I also think it's worth mentioning not to over bake the clay on the first baking round.  The black pen split, I think in part because I had made it too thin, and also because I over baked it a bit.  I covered the split area with more black clay and when I baked it a second time, it covered the cracked area perfectly.

After they were completely baked, one pen required a very slight  amount of drilling to make the hole just a tiny bit bigger to accommodate the fat part of the pen ink. The other two fit perfectly.  If the hole from the bamboo skewer is just a bit too big, you can wrap the end of your pen ink with a layer or two of clear tape to make a tight enough fit that your ink doesn't fall out.

People will be too intimidated to steal these pens from your desk at work.  
Especially if you shout "STUPIFY!" at exactly the right moment.  

Tuesday, July 1, 2014

Guest Post: New York Summer Fancy Food Show at the Javitz Center

I am happy to be a guest blogger about my trip today to the New York Fancy Food Show at the Javitz Center with my friend Robyn Ettorre, who is a chef.

We got there when the show opened and were there all day and we could have spent two days looking around there was so much to see. The show was organized for the most part according to the country of origin of the food products so as you walked through the various displays you could see what each country had to offer.  Most of the vendors had samples to try, so of course we did some damage as we walked around… 

One of our favorite things was a very interesting infused rum that was there from Trinidad it was Chai Rum and it was infused with the spiced tea... we loved it. 

There were a lot of cheese vendors there from many different countries and since Robyn works in a cheese store she was interested to see what they had and also to see their displays. We were very happy when we came up on the Bloody Mary table which was giving out free, pretty good sized Bloody Marys.  As a matter of fact, we made the most of the cocktails during the day, sampling Greek wine, lemon drop and pomegranate martinis and lemoncello in addition to our Bloody Marys, which brings me to the only down side of the day - my Three Advil headache, brought on by my sampling.  Oh well…  YOLO!  

We also sampled many different coffees, and all kinds of foods.  Another really good thing that we tried was a kale pot sticker from one of the Asian vendors.  I'm not sure which country it was representative of, but it was very very good  ..  I think maybe it was from Thailand .  We had a great day couldn't believe how much there was to see there - it was a little bit overwhelming but we loved it and hope to go back next year.

Monday, June 30, 2014

Wen Does the Hair Miracle Begin??

Unless you live under a rock, or are totally impervious to persuasive advertising, you've probably seen Wen infomercials or this product's presentation on QVC.  It's going to make your hair silky, shiny, bouncy, manageable, healthy, blah, blah, blah.  It will be like your hair on steroids and going to the gym 7 days a week - whoo hoooo - it will be BUTT kicking hair!  Ok, so I'm exaggerating a bit, but you get the point.  Your hair will look like a shampoo commercial 7 days a week.  Like water torture working its way into my thick skull, I finally caved to the hype and bought the stuff.

And how I want to know, WEN will I like this stuff?  I was so excited to get my order.  I had planned to keep one for myself, give one to my daughter one to my mom, etc.  I casually mentioned it to my mom and she said, "Oh I bought that stuff already and I really don't like it that much. Do you want mine?"  Hummm….  What don't you like about it?  I asked her.  "It makes my hair look greasy."  Greasy?  Really?  I took her bottle - maybe it was the formula she got?  Her hair type?  But the infomercials said it worked on all types of hair. Oh well.

Finally, I tried my Wen, and I was…  underwhelmed.  I tried the apple whatever-it-was.  My hair seemed somewhat more hydrated  (I have naturally curly hair that ALWAYS seems at least a bit on the dry side) but it was nothing spectacular.  Oh, wait - but I didn't use the recommended 16 pumps of product.  16 pumps.  yes, that's right, I'm not making that up.  My hair was pretty much saturated at around 8-10 pumps - why did I need 16? just to give you an idea of how much product this is, 16 pumps is probably somewhere near 1/4 to 1/3 of a cup.  If I was using my good old standby shampoo and conditioner, Dove, at about 3.50 for 12 ounces (and cheaper in Costco!!) this would be ok.  But we're talking cleansing conditioner that can afford to host its own infomercial.  This stuff is currently selling on QVC for 177.00 a gallon.  Yes, that's right, one hundred and seventy-seven dollars a gallon. that's more expensive than Godiva Chocolate, I think.  In any case, I'd rather have the chocolate.  Or some Kona coffee.  Just in case my husband reads this post, I want to state for the record that I didn't pay that much.  I also didn't buy a gallon of this stuff. BUT GOOD LORD, IF YOU'RE GOING TO BUY SOMETHING SO EXPENSIVE, YOU WOULD THINK IT WOULD WORK LIKE NOTHING ELSE ON EARTH, RIGHT?

I wanted to like this stuff, I really did.  My friend loves it.  But to be honest,  I think it's only so-so. It seemed to hydrate my hair a bit more, but then, it also seemed frizzier.  And the bottle I got from my mom?  I noticed the greasy look too.  My daughter had the same experience.  We tried rinsing it out REALLY well, but then, if you're going to do that, it's really not working as a leave-in conditioner (one of it's multitude of uses, according to the advertising) is it?   I watched some of the infomercials again… maybe I wasn't using enough of it?  I used more.  Nope, that wasn't it.  Maybe I wasn't giving it enough of a chance?  But then the more I used it, the more my scalp felt like I had my hair pulled in a tight rubber band for hours on end.  The only way I could describe it is to say that my hair roots hurt. I read reviews from people saying it had made their hair FALL OUT, and I got a little freaked out.  I washed with regular shampoo and the feeling went away.  But really, this is not the shampoo commercial hair I was expecting.  Plus, I also want to say for the record that one of the bottles pictured above is the only shampoo I ever used that prompted my husband to ask me, "What is that stuff in your hair?  It smells weird.  I don't like it." … And that was NOT the Fig, which is the one I thought was absolutely the worst meant-to-smell-good-shampoo I had ever smelled.  I grew on me after a while, (like a fungus) but still - Herbal Essences kicks its ASS in the scent department.   IEWWW.  

So, WEN does my hair miracle begin?  Apparently, the answer is never.  At least not with this product.

Saturday, June 28, 2014

Painting New Life into an Old Nightstand

My daughter and I have been arguing over this nightstand for the past year or two.  My argument is that she should use it in her room until we get her the furniture she wants.  I admit, that could be a very long time from now.  I say it's better to put your stuff in some sort of organizational item (such as this very useful nightstand) rather than to leaving it in piles on the floor.  Or on the top of a speckled formica topped kid's play table that was old when I was a kid.  Yikes, now THAT'S old.

Her philosophy is that it is better to use nothing to organize her things than it is to use something ugly that you don't want.  After all, your mother might use that as a reason to continue to not by you the furniture you want.  It is better to hold out in stubbornness than to cave in.  

Did I say that she takes after her dad? 

Anyway, this little nightstand is very well made, it's just a little past its prime in the design arena.  It had very colonial looking handles on it, which I removed earlier today.  My plan is to paint it in funky patterns that my daughter may or may not like.  I'll get new handles that go with the new color scheme and designs.  If she likes it, great.  If not, I guess I'll see if I can sell it.  In the mean time, I have another craft project.   So far, I can't even settle on a color scheme, but I plan to start painting tomorrow.  Wish me luck!

Saturday, June 14, 2014

Getting Middle Schoolers to Return their Library Books

I just want to take a moment to show you how I'm trying to do my part in getting the kids in the school where I work to return their library books.  Every day for the past week, I've been reading a "return your library books" announcement modeled after those direct TV ads…

(I am not tech savvy enough to put a link here, but if you want to see one of these ads, go to youtube and search Direct TV Commercials and check  out any one of them. )

I don't know if they're getting the kids to return their books, but they seem to be getting the kids to SHUT UP and LISTEN to the announcements, which is maybe one step closer toward getting them to return their books.

Here are the announcements I've made up so far…

Feel free to use any of these in your own school, and if you do, post a response here to let me know if they help get those books returned!

Saturday, June 7, 2014

Obsessed with Sugar Skulls

I attempting to find my perfect artistic medium combination, I'm now obsessed with sugar skulls.  For those of you who don't know, sugar skulls are decorative skulls (real sugar skulls are edible, but usually just used for decorative purposes) made for celebration of The Day of the Dead, a holiday celebrated in Mexico and closely related to All Saints Day and All Souls Day.  

When I was a kid, skulls and skeletons used to freak me out big time.  Periodically, when I went with my mother to Korvette's, a department store of the time, we would wind our way through several departments in our journey to her shopping destination.  This meant cutting through a smelly cheese department (fondue supplies, I'm sure) and then the toy department.  You would think the toy department would be a place I'd want to visit, but on one pass through, I'd spotted the dreaded Visible Man Anatomy Kit.  This was an anatomically model correct man with CLEAR SKIN.  Pictured on the box cover were cross sections of the man's muscles, organs and bones.  YUCK.  I had nightmares for months after that, just picturing that I, too, had this gross stuff inside my body, especially a skeleton!  But I digress…  

Still, I think this is partly why I like sugar skulls - they take something traditionally scary (the skull) and turn it into something beautiful.  They also nicely balance the living and the dead, and represent the idea that the spirits of our deceased loved ones are still with us… wonderful symbolism, in my opinion.  Anyway, I have been looking at sugar skull tattoos, drawings, paintings and masks on Pinterest for weeks now.  A skull seemed like a relatively easy shape to make in paper mache, and it would provide a nice painting surface.  Plus, as a sugar skull, I could sprinkle it with other three dimensional elements, too.  

First, I blew up a 12 inch balloon and covered it with a nice thick layer of paper mache.  Then I cut it in half lengthwise, and drew a face on it.  

I ripped some paper towels into small pieces, soaked them in water and then whipped them around in my blender for a bit until they were nicely chopped.  I then scooped them out in a kitchen strainer and tapped the strainer a bit to get the excess water out.  I mixed a small batch of flour and water in the usual ratio and mixed it into the ground paper towels until it looked something like oatmeal.

I globbed on clumps of the mixture in that places that seemed to require more depth.  I was pretty happy with how much depth it was adding, except the drying process wound up shrinking it considerably once again.  Oh well.  After the mush layer dried, I still had to add more crunched up paper to the chin and forehead.  After that dried, I added another layer of smooth sheets, just to smooth out the texture again.  

Now it's painting and decorating time.  I find myself in need of a new paintbrush - one that can make small dots and fine lines.  My daughter paid me a lovely compliment the other day.  She said, "Mom, if you paint this in purple and pink and teal,  I might want to hang it in my room."  

So now I have a color scheme as well.   

Thursday, June 5, 2014

Mediumless: ...more commonly known as, Art and Craft ADD

My very first paper mache sculpture - based on a children's book. You can see it took some abuse from the preschoolers before this picture was taken.  

I was probably younger than four years old when my mother sculpted a head out of paper mache and baked it in our oven in attempt to dry it.  It turned black and moldy and never hardened the way it should have.  Little did she know she was going about the drying process in the wrong manner.  After her attempt, I begged her on several other occasions to try it again.  "Paper mache doesn't work…" she would tell me, or something like that.  She probably doesn't even remember this, but it made a lasting impression on me.  I thought there was something truly amazing in turning something into something completely different.  

Already, I was addicted to art and crafting.  As a kid I made doll furniture from cardboard milk cartons, coasters out of yarn scrolled in flat disk shapes and held together with tape, looped potholders, hooked rugs, crocheted squares, line drawings, macrame, tissue paper flowers, corn husk dolls, sock puppets…  Some of these items I haven't thought about in years. They were all wonderful and fun, and yet, I didn't stick with any of them for long.

I started sewing in high school; mostly because my mother was of the "why should we pay this much for it when we can MAKE it for this much…?"  school of thought.  She had her own sewing machine, but she never sewed much.  She got me a pattern and some fabric and told me to "look at the pattern directions and figure it out."  After I while I got pretty good at it, although perfectly set zippers still elude me.  I made ruffled shirts, button down shirts, jackets, pants and costumes.  I stuck with sewing for a while and I still love to sew but I can't sew exclusively.  I'm a craft cheater.

When I worked at the preschool I tried other crafts, most notably, paper mache.  Then I drifted to making beaded jewelry at home, but I still managed to take up scrapbooking, painted wood crafts; I tried soap making and I dabbled in herbal and essential oil crafting.  One thing that's disappointing, though.  It's difficult to get spectacularly good at any one thing when you keep losing interest and switching to another craft or medium.  I used to read articles about various types of crafters and artists - telling how "… the moment they picked up…"  this or that item they were mesmerized or hooked or whatever. I still dream of finding my One True Art and Craft Love, or maybe I'm just looking for that perfect combination of paint, sculpture beads, fabric and wire…

In any case,  I am willing to keep looking, and  willing to try them all.  

Wednesday, May 7, 2014

Chopstick Disability

Tonight I went for sushi with some friends.  It seems that I have a mild chopstick disability.  When the only utensils on the table were chopsticks, I felt a bit of panic rise up in my chest.   I'm no stranger to chopsticks, but still, they mystify me.   I wondered, would this be the night I shoot a California roll 10 feet to hit a fellow diner in the face while I try to grip it with my awkwardly flapping chopsticks?

I had no idea the food in a "roll" was cut to this size to make it easy to eat in one bite.  Apparently this is because even a talented chopstick veteran probably can't cut with a chopstick.  You can make an attempt to stab your food, but said chopstick is not pointy either…  and with no cutting ability whatsoever, my question of the night was, what if I don't like it?  That's a helluva big bite to spit slyly into your napkin.  I want to know, what is the point of chopsticks? I'm not trying to knock chopstick wielding cultures, but as civilization developed, why did they hold onto the notion of eating with two straight sticks as opposed to developing more specialized eating utensils, like forks?  Do they help develop fine motor skills, or do lots of people in chopstick cultures require occupational therapy to get the hang of these things?  Do they pass out rubber bands there to help out as well?  Is fork usage one of the causes of obesity?

I still think cheap plastic utensils rate way higher on the annoyance scale.  Chopsticks are interesting at least, and they are their own unique item, not a thing trying to be something else, like a damn cheap, bendable, plastic spoon.

By the way, the food was awesome, and if I tell you the restaurant's name and location, then I won't be able to get a table there without a reservation, even on a Wednesday.  And they were nice enough to let me cheat a bit by giving me a fork and a knife as well.

Tuesday, May 6, 2014

Cheap Plastic Spoons

There is a nice Chinese food place within walking distance of where I work, so sometimes on nice days I'll walk there at lunch time (or if I'm lazy, like today, I'll drive) and get myself a pint of soup.  The soup is good, but what is WITH these damn CHEAP plastic utensils??

The first time I bought soup from there, I got wonton.  It was winter time, so I had taken the car.  I drove back to the parking lot and parked, and proceeded to TRY to eat my soup.  I had just a plastic spoon, taken from the tray at the Chinese food place.  I chased a wonton around the container, trying in vain to corner it (difficult in a round container) and then slice it with my spoon.  I captured it and tried cut it but my spoon bent in half repeatedly, it's already wimpy status made wimpier by the heat of the liquid.  Finally, desperate and hungry (and unwilling to spoil the solace of my lunch time by going back into the building) I scooped the wonton out and took a not-to-delicate bite out of it.  Damn! In one fell swoop I burnt my tongue and the roof of my mouth AND slobbered liquid on my lap.  NICE.

The next time I bought soup from the chinese place, I was smart and I took a fork and knife as well.  I figured I'd stab the wonton with the fork, cut it with the knife, and scoop it up with the spoon.  Good plan, except the knife, too, bent in half when I tried to cut, proving itself to be even more ineffectual than the spoon.  The fork was good for stabbing, but only with devoted assistance from the spoon.  My GOODNESS, WHO makes these utensils, and why does anyone buy them?  Does anyone remember those "Got Milk?"  commercials from years ago, the ones that featured the guy in clean white surroundings, with cookies on a table?  He thinks he's in heaven until he realizes there's no milk for his cookies - then he knows he's in hell.  I picture hell to be a banquet of wonderful food with these damn plastic utensils.

Today, I REALLY got smart.  I  brought my OWN spoon.

Tuesday, April 29, 2014

Peanut Butter Banana Smoothie

    Ok, so this picture is nothing special, but let me tell you, this smoothie is GOOD.  I just arrived home after picking up the kids from their respective sports practices and I wanted to make them something fast and somewhat healthy.  I just started making these smoothies and everyone LOVES them. I got the basic recipe from my fabulous sister, Veronica (fellow foodie and more more of a health nut than I am…).  I might have changed it a bit from her original, but I think many variants would still be good.  Here's how to whip one up…

1-1/2 frozen bananas
1 heaping tsp. of peanut butter
1 flat tbsp. protein powder (I used vanilla)
1/2 cup plain, nonfat yogurt
1/2 cup milk
5 ice cubes
2 heaping tsp. Nesquick

I put the ingredients in my blender in that order and pulsed until smooth.  This makes about two 8 oz. glasses.  In the future I may substitute Hershey's cocoa for the Nesquick to cut down on the sugar...

Yum.  I whipped up two batches and they are both completely GONE already.  In fact, the second batch was almost all gone when I took this picture.  Enjoy!