Friday, November 27, 2015

Thankful - The Little Things are the Big Things

This is my daughter, wearing her mangled eyeglasses.  She was in her room recently, doing her homework and talking via FaceTime with a friend, when her brother burst into her room in a bubble of 16 year old exuberance. He demanded to know what she was talking about, and picked her up, spun her around (flinging her glasses off in the process) and then dropped her on her bed, the better able to demand from her friend a recounting of what they were talking about. It was all fun and games until...
Crunch. She stepped with both feet on her glasses. 

There was yelling... Screaming, demands to "get out of my room" countered by halfhearted excuses made by her brother, who truly meant no harm.

Now, you want to know why I put all this in a post about being thankful for the little things. Because this "little thing" is that the next day they were joking about it. He was sheepish, and she was willing to pose for my picture in the mangled glasses. And the glasses were able to be fixed. And more importantly, they like each other again, which is a big thing. And I am thankful.

Thursday, November 5, 2015

Play Season! Scenery, Props, Costumes and Crap!

Ursula backstage at The Little Mermaid Jr.

When you like working on plays, you tend to think about them for most of the year, even though play season is fairly short.  And for some reason, it seems the entire world schedules their plays for the same time.

With Halloween just over and play season just beginning, costumes are on my mind.  I volunteered myself to make Willie Wonka's outfit as an assist for my friend, who is the costume creator at her school.  More on his costume in another post.  My sister tells me that her district is doing The Little Mermaid this year, which reminded me of this, one of my favorite costumes.

For those of you doing The Little Mermaid, this costume is really easy, even if you're not an accomplished seamstress.  We used a long gown as the base.  We then found a wide, black leather belt as the base for the tentacles.  The belt allows the tentacles to stay in place, not be too heavy for the actress to drag around, and not affect the integrity of the dress underneath.  The belt buckle allows for easy dressing and undressing, and can accommodate two different sized actresses (which we needed).  I drew out a tentacle shape for my friend, who then chose this burgundy fabric (I would have picked purple, but this is nice also) and then she made 6 tentacles.  We then proceeded to have a debate about how many tentacles Ursula should have ("eight" I said, "Ursula is an OCTopus"… duh!).

Here is the basic shape of the tentacle:

I would suggest not blowing up this exact shape on a photocopier and using it as a pattern, since it would probably have to be elongated a bit - make a test one out of paper first and hold it next to your actress to get the sizing right.  You do want it to drag on the floor a bit, so don't make it too short - err on the side of too long, if necessary - you can always fold any extra over the belt when attaching each tentacle to the belt.  When you have a size and shape you like, cut 16 tentacle pieces from your fabric.  Sew sets of them together (sew right sides together, leaving the straight edge open) and then turn the right side out so that your seams are inside.  Stuff each tentacle with pillow stuffing until it has the desired stiffness and then fold the open end around the belt and sew down.  That's pretty much it!  The tentacles will slide back and forth a bit on the belt, which is a good thing.  You can adjust to the wearer.  The year after we used this costume the way you see it in the picture, someone borrowed it and had me add a section of tulle in between each tentacle to make it look like the octopus' webbing.  I would suggest something in a coordinating color with maybe a little sparkle.  Use a tulle or other light, semi-sheer fabric so it doesn't look too heavy. Leave the section in the back open so Ursula can walk, or spread her tentacles out to the sides if she needs to sit down.  These tentacles drag on the floor, which helps to give her that creepy, leggy look.  Have fun, please don't hesitate to ask! If you make an Ursula costume, I'd love to see your pictures!  Happy Play Season, everyone!

Tuesday, September 1, 2015

Best - Job - Ever

I once had the best job ever.  It was quite a while ago, but I still miss it sometimes, and I think about it especially at certain times of the year - Halloween, Christmas Party Time, April Fool's Day and the first day of each new school year.  Those of you who worked there with me know those were the best days of that best-of-jobs.

While having a job you truly love is really a wonderful thing, if, for some reason, you don't have that job any longer you will spend the rest of your working life looking for a job to match it.  Sometimes I wonder why I never found a job like that again, and I suspect that more than a little of the reason is that I was young, and I didn't really have any other focuses in my life.  Even so, there were lots of other people there at the time who did have other important things going on in their lives, and they agree that it was a pretty great place to work.  I've spent lots of time in the years since then wondering and analyzing what exactly made it so great, and here's what I've come up with:

1. We were a community.  We cared about each other.  We did things together.  We played softball, and had parties, dressed up for holidays, and made each other laugh.  We were each others' counselors.  We were there for many of each others' big life events, and were the support system we sometimes took for granted.

2.  We were important an valued as employees and as coworkers.  The tone of a place comes from the top, and the top appreciated us! We mattered. We were asked, "How is it going in your room?  How was your weekend?  You got a new haircut - it's nice!" but it wasn't bullshit - the person asking really cared.  We were asked for things kindly, thanked personally and told on a regular basis that we did a great job. Our individual contributions were noticed and appreciated.

3. We were given challenging work by people who believed in us.  As a result, we believed even more in ourselves.  I can't say enough how much this meant to me in particular.  I - cannot - say - it - enough.

4.  We were treated as human beings with full lives.  If someone had something going on in his or her life, accommodations were made.  There was flexibility, consideration, understanding.  As a result, you felt as if you would put on your armor and fight for that place.

5. Our creative contributions were used and appreciated.  Thought of a new way of doing something?  Let's hear it!  If you had a real concern about something and things couldn't change, an explanation was given. We felt like our input mattered.

I miss you, friends and coworkers! At the start of another school year, I'll be thinking of all of you!

Wednesday, July 22, 2015

Making a set of Angel Wings - wall decor

    I saw this project on Pinterest. Not sure how it's going to turn out, but it looks easy enough. I found some shapes I like on the web, and I taped together about 4 sheets of newspaper to make one large sheet for me to sketch my
shape onto. 
     I sketched a preliminary angel wing shape, then tweeked it a bit by cutting and taping here and there - mostly so the shoe fit onto the cardboard box I had in mind to use.
     I traced it onto the box with a Sharpie, cut it out two of them with my
box cutter, and here I am, ready to cut out individual feathers. I plan to glue them on with a hot glue gun, then paper mâché to unify the wing. Wish me luck. I was planning to hang it in my
daughter's room but she is very opinionated, and she's telling me that they won't fit. We'll see - if they don't, maybe I'll find someplace else to hang them!

Thursday, July 9, 2015

Finished Paper Maché Trout

I finished another project.  I'm not sure if I like the paint job, but I'm giving myself kudos for finishing this.  Sometimes you just have to get over your original picture in your head and move on.   Here's how it went:

After my last post, I sanded the fish a bit.  Not too much, just enough to take the really rough spots off.

Believe it or not, this stuff dries hard enough that I could have sanded for quite a while before I got a really smooth texture.  I might use a top layer of something smooth next time if I want a really smooth texture - I could probably use the back side of used copy paper…

Next I researched online to see if I could find any pictures with colors I really liked.  My favorite was this one.  

I liked all the colors.  

I started painting….

… and I was really lukewarm about the results.  When you layer the paint on thick, it does tend to soften up the paper maché layers again, which added to my annoyance.  I had to let it dry and think on it.  

I decided to water down the dark green color and add some spots.  I briefly thought about painting over the whole thing in a less realistic, more folk art color scheme, but then enough is enough, you know?  I have a couple of other things I want to work on, and now this fish is standing in my way!

Now that it has those few added features, I can live with it.  I added some Mod Podge for shine, and I was thinking of maybe putting on some fine, clear glitter.  But then again, I might not.  I'm not sure the hubby wants it in his den, so, since it is 4 feet long, the big question is…

What do I do with it?  


Wednesday, June 10, 2015

Progress on the Paper Maché Trout...

Here's an update on my paper maché trout.  It's going well, and moving along quickly, thanks to the dehumidifier in my basement!  It's just about 48" long from nose to tail.  I'm still finishing the Bounty paper towel layer (the back side of what you see is still just covered in the craft paper.  The front portion is impressively sturdy - almost like thick plastic.  I'm not going to strive for absolute smooth perfection, although I think I WILL sand it a bit when the paper towel layer is finished and dry.  I think the slight bumps and valleys will contribute to the hand-done look.  I'm anticipating being at the painting stage by the weekend.  My spouse better deem this "Den Worthy" or I may have to put it on Ebay.

I can't wait to try more shapes!  

Sunday, June 7, 2015

Revisiting the Paper Maché Fish Idea

I've had a hankering for some paper maché…  baking, although it involves squishy flour and water mixtures, is just not cutting it.  But how does one decide what one wants to make?  I keep picturing a very large fish hanging up like someone just caught it - but this one is very colorful - a joy to look at, so that's what I decided to make. Plus, this reminds me of summer!

My last attempt at a paper maché fish was not coming out the way I wanted.  It's still in the basement, unfinished. (I guess eventually I'll finish it…) With that fish, I was trying to make an armature I could use again and again, and I wanted the fish to be very light - paper maché ONLY - nothing inside.  With this one, I decided the armature would remain in the fish - so much easier and sturdier that way.

I started with a fish shape I liked.  I wanted the shape to be realistic, so I settled on this picture of a rainbow trout:

I found it with a quick google search.  It's the kind of fish shape a fisherman might get - you don't usually see fisherman with giant angelfish on their hooks.  

I bought a roll of poultry wire with 1" holes from Home Depot, cut a piece the length of my fish including the tail.

I folded the piece in half lengthwise, and sewed it closed with some floral wire.  This does not require any advance sewing skills - just loop the sides together with your wire.

 I stuffed the middle with a few bunched up pieces of wire to keep it from flattening.  

At this point, I had a tube with a tail.  Next I squished together the front end and tightened up the bulky, pointy sections by grabbing sections of wire with my needle nose pliers and twisting them slightly.  I tried not to do TOO much cutting, since experience has shown me that cut pieces of poultry wire are a pain - literally!  I wore my gloves whenever possible, and my fingers are very happy!

Then I consulted my picture and added some necessary fins where appropriate. 

Once I had the shape finished, I ripped by craft paper (from a package we received that used this as the packing material - recycling at its best!) into long strips and circled it around the fish.  I attached it by taping the ends and/or side edges with double-sided tape (LOVE my scrapbooking ATG gun!).  Where I couldn't attach to another piece of craft paper, I tucked the paper through the wire and taped it back into itself inside the fish.  It was a lot easier than I thought it would be, and it saved me loads of time by 1. giving my first layer of paper maché something to stick to, and 2. providing a separation between the goo and the table, making clean up SO much easier!

First I covered one side with a layer of paper maché, then I put it downstairs near the dehumidifier, and about 8 hours later, it was dry enough for me to cover the second side.  

Going to cover the remaining holes now, then look into my options.  I AM going to finish this fish, I promise!!  

If anyone has any ideas, techniques or questions, post away!

Later, friends!

Sunday, May 10, 2015

I'll wait right here for ya, Dad...

I don't know how he does it, but in our house, Dad is always the favorite human.  I'm not sure how he does it - maybe it's the three meals ("Are you hungry?  Do you want some cookies, too?")… Maybe it's the belly scratches or maybe it's the fact that he's around for part of the day when the rest of us are not.  Whatever the reason, this little girl has become very fond of her car rides with dad.  So fond, in fact, that when anyone rattles their keys, she runs for the door and then tries to hop in the first open car door.   Yesterday I was heading out and didn't want her to come with me, so before opening MY car door, I opened dad's car door and she hoped right in.  She did NOT want to get out, even for her dad.  Doesn't that look just scream, "I'll just wait right here, dad, for when you're ready to go."

Monday, May 4, 2015

I LIKE Dandelions...

I was just getting in my car to go get something for lunch today when I noticed this and I stopped in my tracks and squatted down low to get a picture:

…a lawn full of happy little dandelions!  Now don't hate me; I know dandelions are the scourge of almost every home-owning suburban man and many a suburban woman as well, but I really don't get it.        I actually like them.  Ok, I have, on occasion, picked them out of my "lawn" but that's because my grass needs all the help it can get.  In my humble opinion, they make this grass so much more cheerful. Plus, if you don't douse your lawn in chemicals (I know lots of people do) you can add the leaves to your salads because they're really good for you.  Kids love to pick them.  I believe they are usually the first flower a child picks for their mother. Who out there does not remember being a child and picking a dandelion flower gone to seed and blowing on the seeds while making a wish?  Think of all the people who could get wishes from this lawn!  Not to mention how cool they look when you set a seed head aflame… (I've never done it, but the pictures I've seen are cool!)

So don't be a dandelion hater - must I remind you that just a couple of short months ago, this great big expanse was covered in dirty snow? Ah, gotcha.

Wednesday, April 29, 2015

Windy Spring Afternoon

I've decided to post about those small, wonderful things we tend to overlook as I rush through my daily activities.  It's been a crazy week so far, but the weather has been beautiful - sunny, in the 60's and sunny with a nice breeze.  I went to the marina on my lunch hour.  The water was choppy - the birds were sunning themselves on the sand and it smelled like the ocean.  It was made all the more beautiful by our just ended harsh winter.  Happy Spring!

Tuesday, February 24, 2015

Colder than...

It's freaking COLD outside.  Not that I need to tell any of you that if you live in most of the continental United States.  I took this snapshot of the weather on my phone a little while ago, but I really should have taken it last night or this morning - when it was 2 degrees.  Really, 2?  Can ya spare it, Mother Nature?

My hands are cold, my feet are cold, my house is cold.  We ran out of wood for the wood stove about a week or two ago.  The dog, who used to love to lie behind the wood stove, has taken to lying on the miscellaneous blankets on the couch.  Winter was a lot more fun when my house was warmer.  You might say that "it's colder than…"  Fill in your favorite phrase here.  If you go to google, and search "colder than," you will find the phrase I was actually thinking of.   

"I'm cold"  I texted my friend a little while ago.

"We're all cold."  she said, "We're in cold hell."

It reminded me of the final scene in Dante's Inferno…  the icy wasteland, Satan gnawing on his three victims in the center...

Yup - pretty cold down there...

Well, if that was the case, "we just have to climb down Satan's hairy back and we can get the HELL out of here." I texted back.

If you don't believe me, google it - look for the end of the Inferno section. 

Personally, I really would rather just wait for Spring. 

Sunday, February 22, 2015

Sourdough Bread Made with a Yeast Starter

As some of you know, I recently (unsuccessfully) attempted to start my own wild yeast starter.  For those of you who don't know, a "starter" is what you use when you want yeast risen food without using yeast you purchased at the store.  I first heard of this via reading about San Francisco Sourdough bread.  The yeast is "caught" locally in San Francisco, and that's what gives their bread its distinctively yummy taste.   The yeast makes its home in the flour and water mixture and "ferments."  "Fermented" bread (sourdough) is supposed to be better for you because the starches are more easily digestible and the phytase has been activated to dissolve the phytates, which means minerals in the bread are more easily absorbed.  For more info in this area, check out:

How do you catch wild yeast?  Wild yeast is floating around in the air all around us, (some websites said there is speculation that the yeast is actually IN the flour - who knows) and all you need to do to "catch" it is mix flour and water together in equal parts - and wait.  

… and wait.

Though it's not difficult, it does take some time.  I had some confidence that I would succeed in eventually "catching" some wild yeast because in the past, I've noticed the telltale bubbles in my flour and water mixtures when I make paper mache.  I just knew Long Island had hearty wild yeast.  

I scanned a lot of Pinterest pages and chose one to follow that had great pictures and clear descriptions. My starter (Bertha - from my last post) produced bubbles very quickly, but just as quickly turned horribly smelly and died (I'm just guessing it died, but I'm not an expert in yeast life…).  I read though a bunch more Pinterest posts and searched some bread making websites and decided a few days ago to try again, and I met with success!!  This time instead of feeding my starter every 24 hours, I fed it every 12 hours.  I threw out slightly less than half the starter every time I fed it, and I think this resulted in more available "food" for the active yeast organisms to eat. I eventually want to transition to making whole wheat bread, so in addition, I used a small portion (roughly 25%) of whole wheat flour right from the beginning with this starter.  

Here is the website that I found the most helpful.  I can't seem to get links into this blog, but if you cut and paste this, I'm sure you'll get there...

I started with 4 weighed ounces of flour, and 4 fluid ounces of filtered water.  I mixed, covered and let sit for 12 hours.  Then I added another 4 ounces of flour and 4 ounces of water, waited 12 hours again. My starter looked like this:

I took some out, put in another 4 ounces of flour and 4 ounces of flour, mixed and waited another 12+ hours - probably more like 20 hours.  It looked like this:

I was excited!  And this time, it smelled a little yeasty, like beer, but not terribly singe-your-nose-hairs-sour, like last time.  Last time I had the bowl sitting near the wood stove.  Even though it was covered, maybe that had something to do with it…

It had pretty much doubled in size.  I decided I should attempt the bread.  I needed to bulk up this starter, but I didn't want to ruin my good luck with taking some out each time, so I removed one cup of starter, and added 2 cups of flour and 2 cups of water.  I put it in a slightly warm oven (that had been turned off) and left it overnight.  The website called for 5 cups of starter - 4 for the bread, and one to save in the fridge for next time.  

In the morning I had this:

As per the directions on the website I listed above, I removed 4 cups of this starter for my bread, and put the rest in a covered (but NOT airtight) container in my fridge.  I had a little more than a cup leftover.

I took out my KitchenAid mixer and used it to mix the starter with the olive oil, salt, warmed milk and sugar and dried herbs (I used rosemary, thyme and sage).  Then I slowly added the flour.  

It took almost all of the 5 cups of flour.  I didn't want it to be too dry, and the bread seemed moist enough, so I left the last 1/4 of a cup or so out.  I cut my dough in half, made 2 loaves and set them aside to rise for 3 hours.  

…and they did double in size!

I transferred one to my clay baker and let it sit for a while longer, to recover from being moved. 
Here it is, ready for the oven.

Here is is after I baked it at 375 for about 30 minutes. 

The family was afraid of the starter when they saw it sitting out on the counter. 

"Iewwwww!! that looks nasty!  You're gonna BAKE with that??"

But when the bread came out of the oven, all they could say was,

"Where's the butter?"

I gave my second loaf to my parents and they loved it.  My dad thinks I should have left out the herbs and put in raisins and cinnamon instead, so that tells you he sour taste is not overpowering.

Here's my remaining starter, ready for next time…

Wednesday, February 11, 2015

Bertha, the Sourdough Bread Starter

In the last week or two, really, since the play has ended, I've been obsessing over the idea of baking bread.  Not just any bread, but bread made from Wild Yeast.  I partially blame this on my sister, who is very knowledgeable about healthy eating and has posted a variety of articles on Facebook that have been encouraging me to change some of my crappier eating habits.  We can discuss chia seeds at length in another post. Anyway, one of the articles got me thinking about how I should be making my own bread, and since I watch TV shows like Alaska: The Last Frontier and Alaskan Bush People, I naturally thought I shouldn't BUY yeast, I should CAPTURE it, WILD.

Enter, the Sourdough Starter.

I googled "how to make a sourdough starter," found a how-to that looked good and followed the directions.

The first day was easy.  I mixed 4 ounces of water with 4 ounces of flour (although I intend to make mine with organic whole grain eventually, the site said white flour was most dependable to start with), set the bowl on the counter and waited.

Now let me explain.  Weird experiments are fairly commonplace in my house.  I just spent two months making a Mushu costume out of spray foam and wire screening.  When my family sees weird, sticky objects drying in the basement, they don't get alarmed.  I guess the same goes for weird, sticky Pyrex measuring cups on the counter.

The first day was no problem.  It looked normal and smelled fine.

On the second day, bubbles eventually dotted the surface of the starter.  It grew slightly in size.  You could say it smelled yeasty.  Not unpleasant.

The third day was challenging.  It was distinctly sour.  I smelled it, but no one else seemed to notice.  My son frequently leaves his dirty socks around the house, but I never remembered them smelling like this…  Maybe everyone was ignoring it because they thought it was the kitchen garbage pail, which frequently went unmentioned because no one wanted to have to empty it - sort of like the fart rule of "Whoever smelt it, DELT it." The good thing about this day in the life of my starter was that it grew AMAZINGLY.  When I placed its delicate self in the Pyrex bowl, it was 2 cups in size. Before I knew it, it had grown to FOUR CUPS in SIZE!  I was so PROUD! AW, that's MY baby starter! I named it Bertha.  I made the mistake, at this point, of making my husband acknowledge my starter's existence.

"Check it out.  I'm making a sourdough starter.  You capture the wild yeast in the air and use it to make bread."  He looked vaguely interested, most likely he feigned this interest because I listen on a regular basis to his stories about carburetors, bronze worm gears and tiller attachments.  I held out the bowl for him to inspect.

"It's supposed to smell sour.  Smell."  I lifted the plastic wrap…

He leaned over and sniffed…


"Oh come ON," I said, "You're such an exaggerator!  It's not THAT bad."  Ok, so it smells bad.  But sour is the word, sour.  Isn't it supposed to smell sour?  It IS supposed to be for SOURdough.

So now Bertha is sitting on the counter again, well fed, but unloved by everyone except me. That's ok, she will have a chance to redeem herself when I make a beautiful loaf of sourdough bread next week.  My daughter told me she was "...wondering why the kitchen smelled like cheese."

When I came home the other day, I found an addition on my note asking everyone not to touch my starter.  Next to where I had written Sourdough starter:  DO NOT TOUCH, my husband had written,  "Who would want to?"

If we ever have to move to Alaska, I know my frontier skills will be much better than his.  

Tuesday, February 10, 2015

Finished Costume! Mulan's Mushu on Stage!

After all that preparation, the day of the show finally arrived!  Here's a phone shot of one of the scenes with Mushu on stage, standing on a box.  They had two different students play Mushu, so I made sure the costume accommodated their two different sizes.

I may have made the Mushu costume, but my awesome friend Cindy made all of the other costumes.  Aren't they FABULOUS?  She was a sewing maniac for months! Everyone looked great!

I was told by the director that both kids who played Mushu loved the costume.  She said, "They didn't want to take it off!"

And that is what tells me I did a good job.  I loved the challenge, and I'm glad they loved wearing my creation!  

Great job kids!  Until next year!

Tuesday, January 20, 2015

Mushu Headpiece - Finishing Touches

I am just about done with the Mushu headpiece.  Tomorrow I add the velcro to hold the jaw onto the head (to be put on after the actor is wearing it) and I also add the belt that will go around the actor's waist to keep the head from tilting forward.  I've been working on this for a few hours and I have work tomorrow so…

That's it for this post!

Saturday, January 3, 2015

Mushu Costume Head - getting there!

Since it's almost the last day of Christmas Vacation, I figured I'd better get moving.  My Mushu head needed some foam touch-ups in a few areas.  I bought My second can of Great Stuff (and I'm now more convinced than ever that is really is Great Stuff…) and I sprayed a couple of things in the basement this morning (the others will be in another post).  It was dry enough for me to carve at about 7 this evening.    I added a layer to a low spot on the right side of the face, covered the halves of the ears close to the head (I will cover the ends with just the fabric) and I filled in the backs of the horns and a little bit under the jaw - nothing really noticeable in this picture.

When it was dry I carved off the excess again (this time, avoiding my thumb) and gave it a coat of Elmer's wood glue mixed with a little bit of water - I wanted to make sure my paint layer would stick.  

When I was painting, I was wondering if maybe I should just go with paint, but I decided I'll also add the fabric, and here's why:

1. Carved Great Stuff is loaded with holes.  I can't efficiently get the paint in all of them.

2. I'm using a box cutter to carve, and while it's more than sharp enough to cut, the blade is too short to  make nice smooth cuts across just the surface. I'm winding up with a lot of channels when I need to remove a large area.

3.  My paint looks kind of PINK, and what the hell? PINK??

4.  It kind of reminds me of a devil head at this point, and who needs that?  I think the scales will make the dragon identity more clear. 

So, as soon as I post this, I'm off to cut my fabric into strips of scales and then to ponder what kind of glue I should use (Probably Tacky Glue…?) 

Oh, and I need to spring for a new pair of fabric scissors. 
After 30 years they are finally getting dull enough to be annoying.  

(Yes, I got them for Christmas when I was just born. LOL)