Saturday, April 30, 2011

S is for Spoonflower

Spoonflower is a fabric lovers dream website.  I ran across it a few years ago when it was just starting out and fell in love with it.  It sells custom, printed on demand fabric created by you.  Not feeling up to the task of creating your own fabric?  That's okay, you can browse through other member's gallery until you find that design that screams buy me.

I know what your thinking.  If any bum on the internet can create a fabric design, then obviously the standards aren't that great.  But no.  The standards are pretty high actually.  And the designs are often amazing.  The lovely thing that keeps the creative designing fresh and new are the weekly fabric contests.  All members are given the opportunity to submit one design each week into a contest revolving around a specific theme.  You can see past winners and themes here.  Just be prepared for a cute and awesome overload : )

Friday, April 29, 2011

R is for Reminiscing

I've been staring at this picture frame for a few days now.  I got it as a graduation present a few years back and hung it on the wall with every intention of printing out the photos to place in it. know what they say about the best intentions.  The frame is still hanging there with its fake graduates smiling at down at everyone, looking far to cheerful to be even remotely normal.

I decided to finally sit down, dig up those old photos, go get them printed, and do that frame some justice.  The thing I love about printed pictures is that I immediately file them away, in chronological order, to await that long list of scrap books that I'll never finish.  They're easy to locate because I know if I don't find them in box 1, I'll find them in box 2...and if not, they aren't printed.

Digital pictures on the other hand, though I love them to death, don't get the care and attention my print ones do.  They sit, half forgotten, on that memory stick until one day it's full.  Then they get downloaded to the computer and shuffled into newly created folders with vague names like "dad" and "summer '10".  There is sadly no rhyme or reason to their final destination other than what made perfect sense at the time. 

After nearly an entire day of going folder by folder, I had yet to run across my graduation pics.  Sad, but I was undaunted!  I could do this!  I decided perhaps I had shuffled them into some odd folder, so I got the bright idea to use the search function on my computer.  I did a search for all .jpg files, since all my pictures are .jpg.   Do you have any idea how many .jpg files a computer has?  I had over 32,000.  I'm not sure if that was all of them or my poor computer gave up.  And in case you're wondering how I could fit that many on my computer, I have an external hard drive I had hooked up to search as well.

I decided there had to be a better I did a search for DSC in the file names, since that's what my camera labels every picture with.  This turned up 16,006 files.  Slightly more manageable.  After a half hour of looking through those, I still had not found them.  I'm a bit bummed to be honest. 

But with the sad there's a small bit of happy.  I spent a day looking though 7 years of family photos.  I saw 7 years of different haircuts and colors, fashion do 's and don't 's, and 7 years of my 8-years-old  nephew growing up.

Thursday, April 28, 2011

Q is for Quotes

Who doesn't love quotes?  Here are some of my favorites in wallpaper format found around the internet.

P is for Project

My nephew had to do a report on an animal.  It was an interesting project.  The directions were to create a vest, out of paper bags or material, and on the vest place a minimum of 5 facts and 3 pictures about the animal they chose.  It was one of his monthly family projects, so we got to help...yay!

He's became fascinated with the Harry Potter series and had just finished the first book when this project was announced.  He decided to do the snowy owl...wonder where he got that animal from?  He decided that he wanted a vest out of material, and he wanted a huge flying owl on the back of it.  It had to be white with black "spots" and have huge yellow eyes.  So naturally I did my best to comply.  He read through 3 different books to find his 5 facts, and helped pick out the pictures to go along with it.

And here's the finished vest:

I couldn't find a free vest pattern for kids that I liked, so I drafted my own using the lining and then cut out the blue polar fleece to match.  I didn't realize how much polar fleece stretched until I went to sew the bottom and had to make these little tucks to get the fabric to match up.

 We had him write out his facts and then scanned them into the computer and "attached" them to the pictures they went with, printed them on photo transfer paper and then used iron on heat bond to attach them to the vest.

 For the owl I found a coloring page of Hedwig from Harry Potter online and scaled it to the size of the vest.  I traced the image onto white felt with a lt. gray marker before cutting them out.  I created layers of felt to give it a more 3 dimensional look.  Once the pieces were cut I used the marker to mark where the black "spots" would be and then he used black paint to go over them.  We used fabri-tac to glue the pieces together and then to the vest itself.  The eyes were 20mm yellow google eyes.  we cut slits in the eye "layer" and inserted them a bit to cover the eyes slightly.
The beak and talons are cut from black felt and layered in.

The owl winds up covering most of his back.  He was pretty excited to try it on : )

Monday, April 25, 2011

O is for Once Upon A Time...

Isn't it interesting that almost all fairy tales start out his way? "Once upon a time..." and from there the story starts.  With just those 4 little words you know you're in for an exciting tale, and yet you don't know what tale it will be.  Are you about to hear the story of Snow White?  or Hansel and Gretel?  The Frog Prince?

All this thinking on novels and fairy tales and labyrinths in previous posts have started some creative musings.  Then today I read an article about a Hollywood resurgence in fairy tales and the plethora of movies we'll be seeing in the coming years.  Not your ordinary run of the mill fairy tales, but re-imagined ones.  Granted they're the same old tales, Snow White, Hansel and Gretel, and surprisingly The Wizard of Oz.  They've taken the characters and put a new spin on the story.

While many people think this is a very bad idea (who messes with a classic?!) one should bear in mind that it's been done before.  Quite successfully too.  Gregory Maquire re-imagined The Wizard of Oz  to produce Wicked and look at how well that turned out?  He's worked on other tales too, like Cinderella and Snow White.

    Wicked: Life and Times of the Wicked Witch of th  [DOLLHOUSE MINIATURE] Confessions of an Ugly Step Sister, Gregory Maguire  [DOLLHOUSE MINIATURE] Mirror Mirror, Gregory Maguire

So I'm thinking, wouldn't it be neat to redo a fairy tale?  I would think it a bit easier than writing an entirely original already know the characters and have a basic plot outlined.  It could be a nice little side project to tackle when writer's block is keeping you from other writings.  I for one would love to write a story where elements of all the tales converge, or perhaps have a character that comes in contact with all those characters at some point.  And of course it will have to begin with "Once upon a time..."

Saturday, April 23, 2011

Easter Cheesecake

Because what's Easter dinner without dessert?  Easter cheesecake is a simple cheesecake recipe that gets into the holiday spirit by adding lots of color.  Why should the eggs have all the fun?  If you have kids this is a great baking project to include them in.

To begin we'll use this basic cheesecake recipe:

1 Oreo pie crust
8oz of cream cheese, softened
14oz of sweetened condensed milk
1 egg
1 tsp. vanilla extract
food coloring

Preheat oven to 350F.  Beat cheese until fluffy.  It will look something like this:

(I make a double batch, so don't worry if yours doesn't look like the amount of mine)
Gradually beat in the sweetened condensed milk until smooth (be sure to scrape the sides and bottom well to make sure you get all the cream cheese mixed in).  Add the egg and vanilla.

 Take 4 small bowls and divide the mix into 5 equal parts.

 Place 20 drops of food coloring in the four bowls, one color per bowl.  Leave the mixing bowl plain.  Take your pie crust and remove the plastic protector shield thing.  Set this piece aside for later.  After the cheesecake has cooked and cooled, you can flip it over to make a lid, re-crimping the metal pan will secure it in place.

 Spoon in enough of each color to fill the bottom, then start layering the colors in swirls.
(This is a double batch, if you're making a single batch there's only one pie crust)

 Here they are half filled.  My nephew loves to help with this part : )

 And there they are finished.  I place my pans on a cookie sheet as it makes it a bit easier for me to get them in and out of the oven.  Cook at 350F for 35 minutes, or until an inserted knife comes out clean.  Let them cool and place the lids on the pans, making sure to crimp them into place.  (Yay for the lids, now the cheesecake is stack-able!) Refrigerate until chilled, and enjoy!

Easter Bread

A break in the alphabet challenge to bring you the yummy goodness that is Easter bread.  What makes Easter bread so yummy you say?  Is it the super secret family recipe handed down through the generations?  Or that special ingredient that makes it rise above the competition? (Hahaha, that's bread humor right there, "rise" above...get it?...yeah...)

No, what makes it so yummy is the colors!  Honestly, how could you not smile when you're eating a rainbow?  Although, when people ask how I make it, I do tell them the secret ingredient is Easter eggs.  Some people get it...quite a few don't. (Easter eggs are colored, the bread is colored...)
I have 2 variations for Easter bread, the first is a simple loaf, like above, the second is a four strand braid.  Both variations start out the same:

A box of food coloring and 1 box of bread mix PER color

I use a bread machine to do the mixing, if you don't use one that's fine.  Put the bread mix, yeast, and water (see back of box) in the machine.  Place 10-15 drops (for light colors) or 30-40 drops of food color (for more vibrant colors) where the water pooled. If you're not using a bread machine, mix the coloring into the water before you add the water to the dry ingredients.

 Set the machine to mix and go do something for 30 minutes.  After 30 minutes place the dough in a flour dusted bowl and cover it with a towel to let it finish rising.  OR since this is a very time consuming process and like me you sometimes make the dough one day and assemble it all the next day, put a lid on the bowl and stick it in the fridge overnight.    The next day take it out and let it sit at room temperature for 45-60 minutes so it can warm up and rise a bit.

At this point all your dough has been made and given a chance to rise.  How many colors should you have?  Well this year I did 4, some years I do 5 or 6.  It depends on how insane I am at the time.
Divide your dough (I get 6 balls of each color if I'm making a loaf, 8 balls if I'm doing a braid) using a bit of flour to make the stickiness manageable.

  Take one of each color.  For the loaf version, you'll take a rolling pin and roll each ball into a rectangle shape.

   Layer the rectangles on top of each other.  

Starting at the short end, carefully roll up the layers to form the loaf.  Gently tuck the ends under and place in a lightly greased bread pan.  Cover with a towel and let raise (it will roughly double in size).  Bake at 400 F for 25 minutes (or follow the directions on the box if using a different mix)

For the braid version you're going to take your dough and roll them out like reminds me of playing with play dough, only it smells yummier : )  How long do you make it?  Depends how much dough you have. Just have fun and do what feels right =P

 Take the ends at top and pinch them all together.  If you don't know how to do a 4 braid, here's a quick walk through.  Hopefully the pics will be enough : )  

 Take the blue and place it under the pink...

and then over the green...

and then under the purple.

Then we take the pink and  make it go under the green...

over the purple...

and under the pink. 
So the far left strand will always go under, over, under.

Continue braiding and then tuck the ends under.

Place on cookie sheet, cover with a towel and let raise, then bake the same as above.  These here are different sizes because I used different amounts of dough.

If you're like me and like to give things away during holidays, I take an extra step:

I take my braided bread, cut it in half, turn under the ends and place them in these mini bread pans.  Cover with towel, let rise, etc.

I wind up getting 16 mini loaves from 4 boxes of bread mix.  The bigger ones were given more time to rise, the smaller loaves came at the end when I just wanted to get the whole thing over with and didn't care that they hadn't fully risen before baking.  Don't be lazy like me, let your bread rise =P

So that's Easter bread.  Wow your friends and amaze your kids one of these Easters.  Have fun and make it your own!

Friday, April 22, 2011

N is for Novel

Ah...the great American novel.  It's what every writer aspires to produce...unless they're not American, then I suppose they hope to write the great "insert country here" novel.  Like many other budding writers, I spent the past November frantically writing for NaNoWriMo, with the dream of a 50k word novel that would be (quite obviously of course) the next number one best seller.

Needless to say that dream was dashed when my 50K+ word novel was accidentally lost (curse you computer virus!) and my back up misplaced (why are memory sticks so small?!?!?!)  So as I've been mourning my shot at fame, fortune, and movie deals, I've also been contemplating what exactly makes a novel.

Staring at my shelves full of books, I realized that if someone asked to borrow a novel, there are truly a select few that I would consider suggesting.  I decided perhaps my definition of a novel was skewed, until I realized that I don't really have a definition for a novel...I just kinda eyeball it.  So I went to the internet to search for the true meaning of what a novel is, because the internet never lies. Ever.

nov·el [nov-uhl] –noun  

1. a fictitious prose narrative of considerable length and complexity, portraying characters and usually presenting asequential organization of action and scenes. 

Upon  reading this I became aware of two things. 
  1. Thanks to all those years of schooling, I was correct; novel is indeed a noun. 
  2. I must have skipped that day in class when they discussed "prose".  The word conjured up images of Edgar Allen Poe, and I'm fairly certain he did not write a novel...unless he did indeed write a novel, in which case I am totally awesome for remembering that. 

prose [prohz]  –noun 

1. the ordinary form of spoken or written language, without metrical structure, as distinguished from poetry or verse. suppose anything is a novel then.  But I know this can't be true, so I dig around some more and discover that I am not the only one that does not know what a novel is.  A lot of people online seem to think a novel is any book that is over 200 pages and is fun to read.  Wow... if that's all it takes to make a novel, I have a few history books that fit the bill.  So I kept wading through opinions on what makes a novel until I found one that kinda made sense:

"All novels are books, but not all books are novels. Equally, all novels are fiction, but not all fiction is novels. Novels are the longest of the classes of fiction. The other two are 'short story' and novella. A short story is what is says - a short story. Usually published in a magazine, but may be part of a collection of short stories. A novella is harder to define. It's longer than a short story, but shorter than a novel. A long novella may be published as a slim book on its own, or it may get padded with one or more short stories."
Ah.  I think I'm beginning to understand it now.  Then I stumbled upon a nifty little piece that broke up books by word count.

So now that I have all this knowledge, the number of "novels" on my shelves should have increased in my mind...right?  And yet, there are some books that I just can't give that title to.  Look at romance novels. Sure, I own more of those than any other type of book, I even call them novels, but in my head they aren't.  In my head they're labeled as "trashy guilty pleasure books".  If I asked you for a novel and you handed me one of those I'd think you didn't quite understand my request.

So I've decided on my definition of a novel.  In my mind, most novels are hardback (they seem classier that way lol), they're long, have an elegant writing style, and have such a great plot that even the clues dropped that you think you would pick up on, you don't. Not until the authors big reveal.  A novel is fresh and intriguing and keeps you guessing until the final page.  That, to me, is what makes a novel a novel. 

So here's my favorite novel so far.  The Thirteenth Tale.  It's the one I would suggest if asked.  It meets all my criteria and fits all the other definitions too.  If that's not enough to tempt you, the cover art is pretty freakin awesome...and come on.  Who doesn't judge a book by its cover?  Even a novel?
The Thirteenth Tale: A Novel