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Friday, November 25, 2011

Time to Make the Ornaments

I spent most of Wednesday sewing rather than cooking (not a complete dereliction of duty, given that I had Tuesday unexpectedly off from work). The results:

The first two are from the BH&G 2011 Holiday Crafts. I changed the embroidery slightly on the two: star stitch (or couched cross stitch) for the snowflakes rather than a five-pointed eyelet, french knots for the eyes of the snowman, and turkey work stitch for the pompom on his hat, rather than a tiny circle that was too fiddly to machine applique. They will be given to Beadaunt1 and Beadmom. The bottom one is for me, and was heavily inspired (if I can even call it that) by the first two.

I also made a garland for my mantle, but that is awaiting a few buttons.

Monday, November 21, 2011


I bought Spicecrafts years ago, and I love it. In addition to a brief history of spices, it has all sorts of crafty ideas for using spices, and even a few recipes.

It taught me how to dry oranges for traditional pomanders, which I keep in a bowl on the mantle with a dried pomegranate, pinecones, cinnamon sticks, acorns, and other fallish sundries:

I made a lovely little grapevine wreath decorated with chili pods, cinnamon sticks, and star anise, after many years and many moves across state borders, it finally gave up the ghost.

I made a spice sampler, but that did not work out so well (fabric issues), so I have to think about how to fix it.

I also made several modern-style pomanders, styrofoam balls covered with cloves:
red peppercorns:

and cardamom pods and star anise:

This year, I added a fourth, using beautiful indigo-colored juniper berries I got years ago (spices may go tasteless after a few months, but their craftiness lasts a lot longer):
Now I have to make a fifth, because as Beadmom says when decorating, "odd is better than even."

Do I have time to make it by Thanksgiving?

Saturday, November 19, 2011

Apple Harvest

I finally broke down and bought an apple peeler, and it is wicked awesome. I'm generally not interested in gadgets or unitaskers and I don't have much storage space, but the apple peeler is so fast I don't know how I got along without it.

With the peeler's help, I've worked my way through the pounds and pounds of apples we picked in October.

Apple Sauce (lots and lots of it):

Apple Butter:

Apple Pie, to be frozen now and baked later:

Apple Crisp (a great breakfast):

(For all recipes except the apple butter, I cut the sugar in half -- I don't like my fruit desserts to be too sweet, and it's healthier this way.)

The apple skin left from the peeler looks so neat, I kind of want to find a use for it:

Wednesday, November 16, 2011

Book Round-Up

War for the Oaks by Emma Bull: This was one of the first books written in the sub-genre "urban fantasy," a style that incorporates fairies and magic in an urban setting (specifically amongst artists and other "alternative" people; fairies seem to have no interest in corporate types). War for the Oaks is highly regarded, so it's no surprise that I thoroughly enjoyed it. What distinguished it the most from other novels for me, however, was the description of music. The protagonist, Eddi, is a rocker who manages to put together an amazing band while dealing with the fact that she is a kind of totem for a major battle between the Seelie and Unseelie Courts. Bull herself was in two moderately successful bands so she knows music, and it shows in the way she describes how it feels to make music, and how that music brings out Eddi's latent magic.

Lunch in Paris by Elizabeth Bard: For some people when they read, they "hear" the characters' voices in their head, each distinctive in its own way as if it were an actual person speaking. That's never been me; while I "hear" the words I am reading in my mind, the voice (or whatever it is) always sounds the same no matter what I am reading. Until I read Lunch in Paris, that is. It was written by a good friend of mine from high school, and while we lost touch in college, we recently found each other online and I learned that she had just written a book. Reading her words on paper brought her back to me -- her voice, her mannerisms, her love of rhubarb -- it all came back in a flood, leaving me with the odd sensation that I was listening to her catch me up on her life.

The book itself is subtitled "a Love Story, with Recipes," and while it does depict her Parisian romance to the man that would become her husband, I actually found it to be less about their relationship and more about her relationship with France as an ex-pat. Elizabeth is candid about both the wonderful and not-at-all-wonderful aspects of living in a different culture, and her writing is witty and insightful. I enjoyed the memoir and I'm glad to find out what she has been up to.

The Mathematical Traveler by Calvin C. Clawson: This book was not really about number theory as I had hoped, but it was an excellent overview of the different "kinds" of numbers, including some I had forgotten about (oh yeah, transcendentals!). Although Clawson's prose is occasionally a little clumsy, he does a very good job of explaining complex ideas in simple terms.

The Dark: New Ghost Stories, ed. by Ellen Datlow: This seemed an appropriate choice for the weekend before Halloween, and I am always a fan of the collections Ellen Datlow and Terri Windling put together. This collection I bought for the Kelly Link story (I obsessively collect all her fiction), and hers was as expected -- creepy, fragmented, pop-cultury, post-modern. Some were traditional ghost stories ("The Ghost of the Clock" by Tanith Lee), some were modern horror stories ("An Amicable Divorce" by Daniel Abraham, which had an underlying current of misogyny I hope was unintentional), some had an old-fashioned feel ("Seven Sisters" by Jack Cady and "The Gallows Necklace" by Sharyn McCrumb). "Dancing Men," about a modern Golem, stood out because it reminded me of Beloved of all things -- the ghosts that slavery and the Holocaust leave. I enjoyed the stories well enough, but reading them all together I realized why I prefer mystery to horror. Horror thrives on the unknown, on not quite understanding what is going on. Mysteries, on the other hand, are to be solved, and I love solving puzzles, putting things together, knowing as much as possible. Take "An Amicable Divorce" -- the ending, and the events that precipitated the story, are deliberately left ambiguous, but I wanted to know more. In "Dancing Men" the life of one of the characters between the relevant instances of horror is glossed over, but it was the implications of that life that I was interested in. That's why I find horror to be unsatisfying (even the brilliant and creepy House of Leaves, which I adored, left me hungry for answers).

Scary Godmother Comic Book Stories by Jill Thompson: Spooky-cute comics, created because Thompson wanted spooky but not scary stories she could read to her niece. This collection consists of all the comic issues, but not the books/graphic novels (I think). Thompson's writing is heavy on the puns and gentle satire, and her illustrations are wacky and cute (she is famous for her chibi interpretations of Neil Gaiman's Sandman characters), albeit a bit cluttered, especially when in black and white. My favorite was "Ghouls Out for Summer" (see what I mean about the puns?) which featured a great flashback to the Scary Godmother's youth, when she was an cute little girl who was too weird to be a fairy godmother and too nice to be a witch.

Sunday, November 13, 2011

Friday, November 11, 2011

Autumn Leaves

This craft comes from a book I bought way back when I was still in school (the first time around). I've since given the book away, because the majority of the projects were not my thing, but I always kept this one in mind.

Earlier this fall I got a large maple leaf on the way to Beadboy2's bus stop, and traced it onto paper with a fine point sharpie. I placed very fine gauge copper wire mesh (the manufacturer calls it "mesh fabric") on top and traced it again, and then cut the shape out, resulting in a copper leaf and lots of little nicks on my hands. I then squeezed puffy fabric paint along the edge to make it less lethal, and in the center to mimic leaf vanes.

The result:
You can see that the puffy paint in the lower right is all screwed up. It got a little mussed while drying, so I reapplied the paint and laid it carefully out of the Beadboys' reach, only to have Mr. Beadgirl toss his jacket onto it five minutes later. I fixed it as best I could and laid it back down to dry, only to have one of the cats walk on top of it ten minutes after that. Sigh.

Beadmom suggested I make lots and lots of them and put them on a wreath. I'll get right on that.

Leaves made by actual metalsmiths:

Monday, November 7, 2011

Friendship Bracelets!

Remember those? In early fall I got a hankering to make them again after they popped up on the blogosphere. I made three for my friend's birthday, using the three techniques I knew as a girl:
The bottom one I made too short, so to make up for it I embellished it with pearls, shells, and sea glass to make a beachy bracelet.

Sunday, November 6, 2011

Halloween Costumes

I really did not want to make costumes this year; instead, I thought Mr. Beadgirl could go buy the boys transformers or superhero costumes, saving valuable craft time for projects for myself. (I've come around on commercial costumes -- they are not the waste of money I thought, given that the Beadboys are still playing with the Batman and Robin costumes we got them two years ago. Their refusal to grow more than an inch a year helps.)

But then I learned at the beginning of October that Beadboy2's school wanted everyone to dress up as a literary character for Halloween. A literary character from a book, they repeatedly emphasized; Optimus Prime would not cut it. I refused to buy a second costume (and I doubted places like Ricky's had literary costumes anyway), and I still refused to make one. After much grumbling and discussing with another parent, I came up with The Man in the Yellow Hat -- perfect! Beadboy2 loves Curious George, he could wear Beadboy1's yellow jacket and carry a stuffed monkey, and I could paint yellow a plastic pith helmet from a long-ago party.

Unfortunately, Beadboy2 rejected that immediately. After explaining he had to dress as someone from a book, he started going through his books. The Lion King was out, because that was a cartoon first. A character from Dora the Explorer was out because that was a TV show. Beadboy2's next suggestion, Superman, is a literary character, and of course comics are a valid literary form. But I suspected that Beadboy2's principal and teachers would not agree -- they struck me as the type to dismiss comics as juvenile cartoons, and I was not interested in a fight. Beadboy2 then grabbed a children's religious book given by Beadmom (we call them "Grammy books" in our house) and declared he would dress up as God. But that's a fight I'm even less interested in having with the principal of a public school.

That's when I came up with the idea of a lion. Beadboy2 loves lions, and his favorite books, in addition to the aforementioned Lion King, are Aesop's fable of The Lion and the Mouse, and a beautiful Narnia pop-up book Mr. Beadgirl's parents gave him. Beadboy2 was thrilled with the idea of being Aslan, and I had something to work with (having now resigned myself to making something). And hey! Aslan is God, so two costumes in one!

I bought a mustardy sweatshirt hoodie at Target and lots of golden yellow, beige, and tan felt at Jo-Ann's. I cut the yellow and tan felt into inch wide strips and folded them in half, then sewed them in three rows along the edge of the hood. I covered up the logo on the front (why must inexpensive kids' clothes have logos and slogans?) with the beige felt. Finally, I made a tail from a narrow tube of yellow felt, added tan fringe to the end, and sewed it onto the back hem of the shirt. Voila:
As for Beadboy1, he's an easy-going guy, so he was happy to wear his dragon costume from last year (once I made a few repairs and spot-cleanings).

Next year I really truly am not making costumes.