Tuesday, April 24, 2012

Charmed, I'm Sure.

I love charm bracelets because they tell stories--or at least hint at a good story. The lovely Atomic Redhead posted a WWII sweetheart charm bracelet she recently thrifted, and it set my imagination racing. There were only four charms on the bracelet; why not more? Did the bracelet's original owner send her Air Force man a Dear John letter? Did he perish at Iwo Jima? Did he catch a tropical fever in New Guinea, get discharged early, and replace her bracelet with an engagement ring after she nursed him back to health? Oh, the possibilities! It makes me wonder what kind of story future vintage-lovers might construe from my own charm bracelet.
In 2002 I started collecting sterling silver charms. I had one rule: Each charm I added to my bracelet had to have a sentimental, personal reason for being there. I prefer 3D charms over the flat ones with a design on just one side, because I like for my bracelet to look good from every angle. And I look for solid charms, not hollow,  because I love the satisfying heft and jingle of a wrist full of solid sterling. Vintage charms usually have more detail, and I always look for vintage charms made by Beau, Nuvo, and Chim. Chim, in particular, makes interesting charms with moving parts. Many of their designs open to reveal a figure inside--for example, a castle opens to reveal Sleeping Beauty, or a church opens to reveal a bride and groom. I've yet to add a Chim charm to my collection, but perhaps someday. This is what I've collected over the years:
1. The pewter Venus de Milo charm is the only non-sterling charm on my bracelet. It was a gift to commemorate the completion of my first painting. Friends bought it for me in New Orleans.
2. The sterling cell phone charm opens and closes. The family I nannied in college gave it to me to remember life in Los Angeles. AS IF I could forget, omigawd!
3. I wear the sterling Pomeranian dog charm because I'm so fond of Keith's poms. I bought it online last year.
4. The naughty moon rider charm is there just because she made me laugh. I bought it online during college. She snags on my sweaters all the time, but I like her anyway.
5. The Eiffel Tower charm is to remember my trip to Paris. I bought it online ten years ago, and it was one of my first charms.
6. The J initial charm was a gift.
7. I wear the grand piano charm because I took piano lessons for ten years and loved it. The charm isn't vintage, but it does open and close, which is cool.
8. The vintage book charm is essential for a librarian! It opens to reveal a blank page, which can be engraved, but I can't bring myself to do it. It's rhodium plated to prevent tarnish, which is why it's so much shinier than the other charms. I usually prefer the antiqued look, but this charm might be my favorite.
9. The sterling Southern Belle charm is a bell, and I wear it because I love living in the South. She's vintage.
10. The sterling cardinal is the Illinois state bird; I was born there. I bought it online when I first began my bracelet.
11. The vintage sterling beer stein commemorates my trip to Germany. It's marked "BEAU STERLING."
12. I wear the vintage Hermitage charm because I live in Nashville. I bought it on eBay about nine years ago.
13. Keith bought me the Cinderella's coach charm at Disneyworld last year.
14. The jackalope charm was a gift, and it reminds me of the Interstate 40/Route 66 drives I used to make when I was in college.

Someday I'd like to add these charms to my bracelet:

Monday, April 23, 2012

Game of Thrones Party Food: Lannister Red Velvet Cake

When you play the Game of Potluck, you win or you clean up the kitchen! There is no middle ground.
Eat up! Winter is coming.
Is it Red Wedding Cake? Is it Lannister Red Velvet Cake? Who cares; it was so tasty! It's a Cake Wreck, I know, but it was the first time I ever tried to decorate a cake, and perfection wasn't the point. It got a lot of laughs last night, and I didn't know a boxed cake mix could be so light and fluffy. Make a similar cake for your next theme party. You won't regret it.
"So you agree? Starks are enemies?"
"Everyone who isn't us is an enemy."

Sunday, April 22, 2012

How to Make a Yarn Wreath with Felt Flowers

I've long admired the yarn wreaths by KnockKnocking on etsy, but I couldn't justify spending $50.00 to adorn my front door. So last week I finally made a yarn wreath of my own for less than $10! I was hesitant to try it because I imagined the felt roses and chrysanthemums would be difficult to make. Luckily, I was wrong, and I love the way it turned out! The black and white Librarian Wreath was nice for the post-Christmas winter months, and now this bright, rainbow colored wreath is perfect for spring.
Styrofoam wreath form ($3.99)
White yarn ($1.99)
Rainbow yarn ($1.59)
6 Sheets of felt ($0.23 each)
Scissors (already owned)
Hot glue gun and glue sticks (already owned)
Leaves from fake flowers (already owned)

Knock, knock.
Who's there?

Monday, April 16, 2012

Game of Thrones Party Food: Fish a la Tully with Targaryen Dipping Sauces

The first GMX book club last week was so much fun! More than 20 people came to Flying Saucer to talk about the Game of Thrones series. And season two of the show is just getting better and better. I've been watching it with friends every Sunday. They like theme parties, and together we've been putting together some unusual and fun potluck menus... like Feast On the Boar that Killed the King. This week the theme was Dinner at the Tully House. For those of you who aren't into the series, House Tully's symbol is a leaping trout, so Keith and I made sesame-crusted escolar bites with "Targaryen" dipping sauces. The black soy-based sauce is for Drogon, Daenerys Targaryen's black dragon. The creamy green cilantro sauce is for her green dragon, Rhaegal, and the lemon aioli is for her cream-colored dragon, Viserion. Nerdy, yes. But SO tasty!

I loved it, and our friends ate it all and complimented the sauces. If you're invited to a Game of Thrones party, OR if you're just looking for a tasty fish dish, try this recipe. It was modified from this recipe that Keith found at food.com. The original recipe calls for tuna steaks, but we used escolar. Escolar is also known as butterfish, and just as it's heavy, dense, and rich as the name implies. We cut it into hors d'oeurve sized bites before cooking.

Pan-Seared Sesame Crusted Escolar Bites
1/4 cup black sesame seeds
2 pounds of escolar, cut into bite sized pieces
1/2 cup white sesame seeds
salt and pepper to taste
2 tbsp canola oil

1. Combine the sesame seeds in a small dish and mix.
2. Sprinkle the fish with salt and pepper and dredge it through the seed mixture, coating evenly.
3. Heat the oil in a nonstick pan. When it begins to smoke, add the fish. Cook for one minute and turn.
4. Turn and cook for one more minute.
5. Arrange it on a pretty platter, and serve immediately with toothpicks for dipping.

Rhaegal's Creamy Cilantro Sauce
This also makes a tasty chip dip!
(recipe originally found here) 
1 or 2 serrano peppers
2 cloves garlic
1/2 cup mayonnaise
1 tbsp olive oil
Juice from one lime
two ounces spring mix
1 bunch of cilantro, stems and all
3 green onion stalks
salt to taste

Combine all ingredients in a food processor and pulse until smooth and creamy.

Viserion's Lemon Aiolo
(recipe originally found here)
1 egg yolk
1 tsp dijon mustard
3⁄4 cup olive oil
1 tbsp lemon juice
salt to taste

1. Put the egg yolk and mustard in a food processor and pulse to combine. Turn the food processor on and slowly drizzle in the oil until the sauce is thick and creamy.
2. Stir in lemon juice and salt.

Drogon's Ginger Soy Dipping Sauce
1/4 cup rice vinegar
1/4 cup water
2 tsp sugar
2 tsp fresh ginger, peeled and grated
1/2 tsp crushed hot red pepper flakes
2 tsp sesame oil
2 green onions, sliced thin
2 tsp chopped cilantro

Combine all ingredients in a bowl and stir to combine.

It was a fun weekend, and I'm sorry it's over. On Friday, I saw Battle Royale at the Belcourt. I'd heard that The Hunger Games is a Battle Royale ripoff, but I thought the two stories were very different. Battle Royale is more explicitly violent, but often very funny. And unlike The Hunger Games, it does little to explain the social context in which the children are forced to battle. On Saturday, I celebrated my good friend Lance's birthday, and Sunday was Game of Thrones night. Phew!

In between all that, I played with Pottermore, which is just as cute, interesting, and magical as I'd hoped. Harry Potter fans, rejoice! The sorting hat, potion making, and wand shop were all designed more imaginatively than I expected. But best of all, J.K. Rowling wrote detailed backstories that never made it to the books, but you can read them at Pottermore. Professor McGonagall's story is unexpectedly sad and romantic; go explore read it and explore 4 Privet Drive, Diagon Alley, and the Hogwart's library!

Thursday, April 12, 2012

When life gives you platitudes, break an egg to make an omelet?

I've done nothing creative this week! So enjoy this picture of Stella.
Picture this: It's your biggest work event of the year. Hundreds of children are at your workplace to take part in an Easter Egg Hunt. Your coworker is being led around in a terrifying furry bunny costume greeting the kids, the field outside your workplace is covered with thousands of plastic eggs, and you're in charge of a huge volunteer team, including a dozen teenage face painters. In minutes, the sky goes from sunny blue to bruised black. Lightning cracks, and moments later, you're drenched in rain. The children are afraid of thunder, so they're all screaming and crying. Figure out how to salvage the event. That was my reality last week, and it was hilariously cartoonish but so stressful. Thanks to a fantastic team of adaptable librarians and hardworking, cheerful volunteers who quickly moved the face painting, games, and terrifying Easter Bunny into the building, it turned out okay... but I think I'm still recovering from it! So please forgive this week's lack of creativity.

Face Paint by Dan Klepper
Hire him for your next party--he's great!

On top of that, everything is broken. My air conditioner was recently out for a week, my car battery went kaput last night and left me stranded, and and I'm learning that sometimes things have to break to demonstrate the unbrokenness of everything else in one's life. Every time something goes wrong, someone is there to help me. Keith brought me box fans when the temperature in my place soared to 83 very humid degrees. My father came to the library to jump my battery, and he even brought me a cup of shepherd's pie from Mom. Then Keith installed a new battery in my car at ten o'clock last night. At the end of the Easter Egg Hunt, Dan Klepper, a professional face paint artist, kindly offered to paint my face to cheer me up. It was as relaxing as a massage, and it looked beautiful!

Sometimes I get gloomy and (cue a dramatic wail) I feel soooo alooooone, but these not-so-great events reminded me that my life is pretty great after all. Maybe it's all the spring sunshine, but I can't stop smiling lately.

Maybe it's Keith.

Sunday, April 8, 2012

How to make a Kaylee Frye Firefly Costume

Halloween is my favorite holiday, I love costume parties, and now that I'm the book programming coordinator for Geek Media Expo, I'm going to have more reasons to dress up. Even though I don't have any interest in anime, I was so excited about going to our sister convention, the Middle Tennessee Anime Convention, and spending the day people watching and trying out new games in the analog game room. Ever since Keith introduced me to Firefly, I've adored Kaylee Frye. So dressing up as the cutest mechanic in the universe felt natural. And Keith dressed up as Kaylee's crush, super-serious Dr. Simon Tam! Aww.
It's a common convention costume, so I started by gathering pictures of Kaylee and researching how other Kaylee cosplayers made their costumes. Some people are perfectionists, spending hours tracking down the exact pattern of her shirt. Their attention to detail is impressive, but that would drive me crazy! I wanted to be recognized as Kaylee, but Kaylee is so relaxed and resourceful that a too-perfect approach felt wrong. As I worked, I asked What would Kaylee do? When I told Keith this, he groaned: "I'm Simon. That means I have to be a perfectionist." HA!
Pyramid Head looks so cute holding my parasol.
I had so much fun, we found a really great new game, and we must have been wearing good costumes, because so many people asked to take our picture. The costume was perfect because it was SO COMFY, I felt cute and smiley all day, it cost less than $50, and the parasol made it easy for friends to find me in a crowd. I definitely recommend dressing up as Kaylee, especially if you feel silly dressing up as a sexy so-and-so. If you want to dress up as Kaylee, here's how:

You'll need:
pink and purple flowered long-sleeve shirt
sleeveless green coveralls
teddy bear patch (on left thigh)
blue flower patch (on the waist, left of center)
red heart patch (on right pocket)
needle and thread
flip-flops OR work boots
black spray paint
black Sharpie marker
coarse sandpaper

 white spray paint
brown acrylic paint and paintbrush
paper parasol
blue Asian jacket
light brown wig

I started at Friedman's Army Navy Surplus in Hillsboro Village. The staff were extremely helpful, and I found the perfect pair of coveralls for $39.99--except they were beige. So I spent twenty minutes on my balcony stirring the coveralls around in a huge steaming bucket of green Rit dye ($2.49). I looked like a creepy witch, and I carefully avoided contact with all my cute neighbors who walked past. That sealed the deal--I was committed to this costume! Next I chopped off the sleeves. New-looking coveralls were all wrong, so I used sandpaper to rough up the texture.
The heart and flower patches were $1.25 apiece on eBay, but Kaylee's teddy bear patch was $6.00 plus shipping. I thought that was too expensive, so I used the fabric from the sleeves and made my own patch. After I sewed on the three patches, I used black and white spray paint to put "stains" and "burns" on my coveralls. The more roughed-up this costume looks, the better! Finally, I used a black Sharpie to write Chinese characters on the left pocket.

I studied the colors and patterns on Kaylee's shirts, and bought the closest match I could find at Goodwill on half off day for $1.99. I chose to wear my brown flip-flops instead of work boots. Chinese-style platform flip-flops would've been more accurate, but I didn't want to buy new shoes for the costume. I owned a purple paper parasol already, so I carried that, even though it would have been more accurate to paint red, yellow, and green swirls on a white parasol. But I didn't want to obsess too much, and besides, my purple parasol matched my shirt. I decided to go without the blue Chinese jacket because it's already unseasonably warm in Nashville.

My hair is darker than Kaylee's, but the cut is right, and I didn't want to buy a wig. So on the day of the convention, I parted my hair in the center and used a curling iron to add a bouncy shape to the ends of my hair. Kaylee's makeup is simple: I used lots of pink blush on the apples of my cheeks, shiny nude lip gloss, subtle beige and brown eyeshadow, and curled my lashes before applying mascara. And then--the best part--I smeared black eyeshadow on the sides of my cheeks to make "grease" marks, as if I'd wiped the back of my hand on my cheek. I absolutely loved the result! I felt cute, casual, and so comfortable.

For more resources, check out Maggie's Costume Site, which lists sources for each item, and this detailed costume guide.

    Monday, April 2, 2012

    How To Paint a Chicken in Only Ten Days

    It's finally finished! These eighteen by twenty-four inches of poultry goodness sat on my easel for months waiting for attention. I used the Make Your Own Paint By Number Template technique I described in an earlier post to make my template, transferred it to a stretched canvas with carbon paper, and spent more than 20 hours painstakingly painting the bird. I'm so pleased with the result! This is my second piece on canvas, and I avoided the problems I had with my first canvas and enjoyed the process much more this time. And after using this technique to make landscapes, portraits, and still lifes, I've decided that the technique is best suited to portraits and still lifes, especially those that prominently feature a single object or person, NOT sweeping landscapes.

    Inspired by a very silly game of Apples to Apples during which my father tried to defend the idea of "calm chicken" with some of the strangest noises I've ever heard, this piece was originally intended to be my mother's Christmas present. But when I got to the chicken's legs and feet, I panicked. Chickens have creepy feet! I was afraid that I'd paint them poorly and ruin the piece, and it sat far too long while Mom patiently waited. But I recently found new inspiration; I want to paint a trio of small images from Botticelli's Primavera mural! I wanted to get this off the easel and into Mom's kitchen, so over the weekend I finished the piece we've dubbed Calm Chicken.

    Even though it sat for a long time, it only took 10 working days (or 25 hours!) to paint it.  For a day by day breakdown and a preview of what's next on the easel, keep reading.
    Click to enlarge
    So. Much. Chicken. I'm fond of the little guy and I love the way he turned out, but I'm looking forward to putting him aside and making a trio of very small square canvases featuring vignettes from this piece:

    So much to choose from! I like blindfolded cupid, the dancers looking each other in the face, and the sassy angle at which the boy puts his hand on his hip. What is your favorite part of this painting?