Tuesday, July 31, 2012

The Gold Coast

Okay guys, I seriously considered titling this post "Don't Try This At Home!" I have recently survived a sewing adventure. It worked out okay for me, but I wouldn't consider this post an endorsement, as I think I'm merely lucky that I didn't injure myself (other than the occasional needle stick) or ruin my project.

So, a while ago, I dropped by the Gap Outlet and discovered this tote bag.
It was pretty much love at first sight. I was especially excited about the classic lines with the fanciful sequins. But, I had a little trouble deciding whether to buy it. The bag has a beautiful lining.
And, as you might be able to see from this photo, the bag gaps open big time. While I like the lining, I was worried my stuff was going to fall out. So, I decided to buy the bag and told myself that I would have to sew on a snap. I was a woman on a mission!

I was imagining one of those magnetic snaps that are oh-so-handy on purses these days. Only a small amount of internet research revealed that it would only be possible to use a snap like that if you were intending to make a lined bag and could add the snap before sewing the lining and the exterior together. This meant that a standard magnetic snap wasn't an option for this project.

I also considered using regular snaps, which would have a decent option. However, I have one other bag that features non-magnetic snaps and I find that I never use them. I never want to spend the energy pushing them closed, and while I know this might be the epitome of laziness, I've given in.

So, I investigated at JoAnn and discovered it was possible to buy a sew-in magnetic snap. YES! Even though it was like $6, which seems expensive for a snap, I got my little coupon and picked on up. I had this seriously misguided idea that it might be possible to sew it into the lining without detaching the lining from the exterior. Why did I think I could do this? I was clueless, I guess. Seriously, if you can make it work, let me know how! I was basically prepared to give up, until I realized that, because I had chosen matching thread, I could just sew right through both layers of fabric.

I pinned the snap on with straight pins. I used two at a time. Normally, you'd try to pass one pin through all the layers and then come back up to secure things and avoid getting stuck. That wasn't an option here because it was so thick. The vinyl of the snap was pretty serious action. I went to JoAnn the day before and selected some Coats and Clark heavy duty thread in a color called Dogwood, which is a perfect match for my bag. In fact, I think one important lesson I learned in doing this project is that a good color match is the most important thing. I decided to do a back stitch.  Above is the "wrong side" on that stitch.

And here is the right side! Look at that color match! It was 75% dumb luck, 25% that I brought the bag with me to JoAnn (because I was carrying it as a purse that day), so I had the chance to compare as many colors as I wanted. While it wound up a little like an eye exam (choice A, or choice B? A or B?, and so on), I got it done.
The biggest challenge in sewing this project was getting the needle through so many layers of fabric at the same time. It was extra difficult to get the eye through, and I found myself using a lot of pressure, with left me with a sore thumb and forefinger. I was reflecting on this when I thought of the idea of using pliers. It really helped! I think the fact that you have to use pliers is a sign of just how much of a bad idea this was. I mean, seriously! I could easily have broken the needle, which wouldn't have been a huge deal but it might have gone flying and hit me or gotten stuck somewhere. Yeesh. I really lucked out.
This is the finished product. You can see the place where the snap is sewn and if you look VERY carefully you can see the imperfections in the stitching. But, I think it worked out pretty well.
And with this parting shot, the Gold Coast bag and I are ready to hit the town!

Monday, July 30, 2012

At Home

Though it may not yet have been obvious from reading the blog, one of my very favorite authors of all time is Bill Bryson. I fell in love with his work reading his travel books just after returning home from my semesters abroad during my third year of college. Recently, he came out with a new book called At Home, which I received as a birthday gift from good old Mom and Dad.

This book was pretty darn entertaining. I started it several weeks ago, but wound up putting it on hold on a few different occasions, mostly so I could read library books before they were due. It was easy to do that with this book, where each chapter has a somewhat independent focus. The book begins with Bryson at the house he and his family own(ed?) in England, where he moves from room to room. Each room gives him a chance to tell a different story about how it is that people came to live as they do today. He is also able to note how the rooms were designed and why, describing what was in fashion 150 years ago when the place was built.

I have to admit that there were some of these anecdotes I didn't find all that fascinating (the history of steel architecture jumps to mind). However, there were a few others that really drew me in. The book includes an explanation of stairs and how they are designed to avoid danger that I found very intriguing. I guess I'd never really understood how it is, in fact, a feat of engineering that most buildings constructed in the modern era in the developed world have staircases that are remarkably similar and which are generally very safe.

Another interesting topic that came up was the history of bathing and disease. Bryson explores how, for much of human history, these two topics were involved in an unfortunate vicious cycle. This might not be the kind of material you'd want to read with a sensitive stomach, but it really is rather remarkable how rare these diseases are in my corner of the world..

I think the most interesting aspect of this book was that it reminded me of how very different it must be to make your home in Europe because there are so many older buildings. Can you imagine living in a home that's 150 years old? I sure can't. While I know there are some buildings of that age in the U.S., it appears to me that many of the residential buildings in that age category have been converted into museums. I don't think I've ever even heard of someone who lived in a 150 year old place. Indeed, this was especially interesting in contrast with the Wilder Life. That author traveled the country seeking the homes where the famed Laura Ingalls Wilder had grown up, which were the settings that inspired the books and television show, and discovered that not one of those buildings is still standing. Though this might be attributable to construction methods as much as anything else, the fact remains that the buildings that surround us in the U.S. are generally very new. In that way, even At Home was a travel novel because it detailed the kind of "experience" (even if only in one's mind) that can't be had here! What do you think was happening at your house 150 years ago?

Friday, July 27, 2012

Words to Live By

I recently was doing some organizing in my living room when I ran across something pretty weird! For years, I had a little notepad tucked into a nook near the TV set where I could write things down that were on TV. This isn't that weird, really. The part that's totally weird is that I never really wrote anything - except three quotes that made me laugh. I decided that I would share them with you today.

1. "Dude, come on, French it up!" 
                   - Joey Tribbianni, Friends
Here's a clip from YouTube for your viewing pleasure. showing a series of clips when Joey attempts to speak French. I think it's funny even among people who don't speak French. Enjoy!

2. "People look to tall people in emergencies. We're like the lighthouses of society." 
               - Mike Heck, The Middle
One episode of The Middle, entitled Hecks on a Plane, features their daughter, Sue, winning a trip to Washington D.C. When things start to go wrong, Mike makes this comment. It always makes me laugh to think about it! Here's a tiny clip from a different part of the same episode.

3. "I'm this close to moving to France except for can't speak the language and I hate the people."
                - Bronx Beat, SNL
I adore the Bronx Beat sketches on SNL, and this particular one had me rolling on the floor. This appeared quite a while ago and reminds me of an all-to-common phenomenon in our culture. While there was a huge movement rejecting France and the French, that didn't change the desire of so many people (especially women) to go to Paris, which is still described by many as the romantic city on earth. Of course one of the ladies on Bronx Beat hates France but wants to move there anyways! I couldn't find a clip of the sketch, I did find this little promo to give you a sense of what the Bronx Beat ladies (Amy Poehler and Maya Rudolph) are like in character:

Are these actually good words to live by? Probably not. What do these quotes really tell us? I love some great comedy!

Thursday, July 26, 2012


Not long ago, one of my good friends from grad school developed a passion for Bingo. She's in her mid-twenties, but she collects "dobbers" and loves everything about it. A few weeks ago, I went with her and some other friends to see a show at Mystic Lake Casino (Penn and Teller, for the curious). After the show, we hung around until the Cosmic Bingo session at 11 o'clock. Once before, we went to a different casino where we played bingo in the regular session. We had a good time, but most of the other players took it rather seriously and it was very intimidating. The Cosmic Bingo session, however, was super relaxed. They offered good deals on food, cranked the music, turned off the lights and even had a little break in the bingo for a Guitar Hero competition. With the lights off, our cards were glowing in the black light, which made me realize just how cool the colors were. Rather than trashing the old cards, I folded them up and snuck them into my purse!

Here are the cards, with their neat colors:  

I figured that these might be a nice addition to the Last Wall, especially after the addition of the red chair to my living room. Thinking about the shape of the cards, I figured a square frame would make more sense than a rectangular one. I popped over to Michaels and picked up a 12x12 frame, designed for scrapbook paper, and then a few sheets of scrapbook paper. The coolest part was that, since each one costs only a few cents, I could bring three home and look at them in the space, along with everything else in the space, to decide what would match best. I wound up picking a solid navy blue.

 So, here's the finished product. I added these little metal dots to the corners, which I think look a bit like push pins, though they are actually adhesive.

The 12x12 frame I selected was very, very simple.

I then added it to the wall, along with a couple of other things:
These two were part of a pack of 5 from Ikea. I like their blend of modern and folk elements and, of course, the bright colors. 
 Daisy brought this one back for me from her trip to London. She bought it at the Churchill War Rooms! 

Here are some views of the wall with the addition of these four new pieces: 
I think they're a nice addition and help make the red chair look right at home!

Wednesday, July 25, 2012

For once...

Today is a special day. It's Willow's birthday! And, for the first time since I met her in 2002, I'm ready in advance! I made her a necklace and sent it off last week. I hope she's already enjoying it. I thought I'd share a few pictures with you. Willow has always worn lots of jewelry and was doing statement necklaces before anyone else I knew. I figured I had to come up with something bold to fit in to her jewelry wardrobe. Looking at the finished product, I realize it's not as bold as some of her other things, but it's still probably the boldest thing I've made.

I found this cool pendant on a clearance shelf a couple of months ago and had to take it home with me. I knew it would be just right for Willow.
It took me a while to decide what kind of beads would complement this piece and work with Willow's style. It was a bit of a miracle when I ran across this collection of beads at JoAnn.
So, I laid them out on the design board to make sure they were centered.
I strung them onto beading wire and attached the clasps. Ta da!
And here's a quick close up of some of the beads, to give you a better sense of the color gradation:
I hope Willow likes it!

I made these birthday cards for Willow and Marigold, the other summer birthday among our group of college roommates. I bought the cards as part of a big pack earlier this year and then printed the messages with my computer and laser printed. Good work, Gartner Studios!

Tuesday, July 24, 2012

July Book Club

So, the reason I read "The Wilder Life" last week is because I actually selected it as my book club's selection this month. In our book club, we've recently been making plans basically twice a year as to who wants to host in which month. The hostess then gets to select the book and lead the discussion. It's an efficient system! I asked for, and received, this book as a birthday present back in April. I generally prefer to read non-fiction and I thought this would be a good, lighthearted choice. Once I finished reading, I had to get ready to take on my other hosting duties - this means food!

Last winter, I attended a Tastefully Simple party where I bought a mix to make a key lime cheese ball. I figured this would be a perfect summer snack. It was crazy! All I did was mix a white powder with cream cheese and the result was a beautiful green cheese ball.
 I also decided to make the rice krispie treats with peanut butter and chocolate frosting. It was nice not to have to turn the oven on. The way I make them, I get all of the ingredients together first:
Once I start melting the corn syrup, things start moving quickly. I've got to be ready to go! Feeling like I'm on a cooking TV show is just an added bonus.
Finished product. Yum!

I also decided to make a fruit salad. Lovin' the clear bowl to show you my progress!
 And here's an arty shot!

The finishing touch I decided to put on the evening, given the Laura Ingalls Wilder theme, was some old fashioned candy. I've had Claeys' candy before, so I made a special trip to pick some up.
Laura Ingalls Wilder talked about eating Horehound candy during her childhood, so I definitely wanted everyone to have the chance to try it. Here they are on display!
Horehound is dark brown, root beer is light brown and red is anise seed. It was a fun treat!

So, here's the spread:
Historical candy, cheesy chex mix, Hawaiian bread with spinach dip, pre-made puppy chow ("Muddy Buddies, according to Chex), lime cheese ball with mini grahams for dipping, rice krispie treats, and some cookies that one of the guests brought after having bought them during a trip to Hungary. Everyone ate a bunch and I'm definitely ready to call the menu a success!

Monday, July 23, 2012

The Wilder Life (with Discussion Questions)

When I heard that a young woman had decided to relive her childhood love of Little House on the Prairie, I knew I had to read it! I asked for it as a gift for my birthday and was lucky enough to receive it. Then, when I offered to host my book club's July rendez-vous, I had to select a book. Since we haven't done a lot of non-fiction, and since I hoped this one would be entertaining and engaging, I chose it. The last non-fiction work we read was Infidel by Ayaan Hirsi Ali, and while this remains one of the most interesting books I have ever read, I was looking for something lighthearted. Enter Wendy McClure's The Wilder Life.

I thought this book was definitely entertaining - McClure's writing style was salty and made me laugh. I was anticipating that the theme would be more about how odd and interesting these sites were, rather than focused on the degree to which you cannot, in fact, go home again. I'm glad to have read this book and I would probably recommend it, with the tiny caveat that it deals with some unexpectedly heavy stuff regarding loss of a parent.

Because I chose this book for my book club, I was tasked with leading the discussion. Ordinarily, I would just quickly google some discussion questions, as do all the other members of the club when its their turn to host. I guess I should have thought of this before, but questions definitely weren't available. I spent some time writing my own bakers dozen discussion questions, based on my memories of the book and some reviews by other bloggers. I hope these will come in handy for some other book club!

1. Wendy McClure articulates the importance of the Little House series for her in understanding what it meant to be a girl. Did anyone else feel that way when reading the series? Are there other books that spoke to you about how to be a girl?

2. After reading The Wilder Life, do you think Laura Ingalls Wilder wrote her book series to appeal only to girls? If not, who was her target audience?

3. Were you a Laura, a Mary, or a Nellie as a child? How about today?

4. Is there a series of books or on television whose characters you think of as though you knew them?
The Little House series had an emphasis on simplicity that seems appealing to some Christian people, based on those Wendy encountered on her journey. Wendy expresses that those people think simplicity is something to strive for. Does Wendy’s work, or the series, indicate whether Laura actually advocated simplicity or whether she was merely attempting to make the best of difficult circumstances?

5. What did Wendy learn from her interaction with the “End Time Revelationers”?  Do you agree with her conclusion that Laura would not have appreciated their doomsday mentality?

6. One theme that seems to appear in this book is the loss of youthful wonderment. What situations did Wendy describe that illustrated her loss of wonder? Have you ever experienced anything similar?

7. Were you disappointed that Wendy seemed oblivious to just difficult Laura’s circumstances must have been? Or by the fact that she never seems to relate to Ma and Pa, as fellow adults?

8. Is Wendy’s description of the prairie more negative than Laura’s descriptions? Is Wendy fearful of the prairie as compared to Laura’s wonder?

9. To what degree is the sense of disorientation Wendy encounters during her journey based on the incredible pace of cultural change in the last 150 years?

10. Is it odd that McClure doesn’t comment on the differences in the ways she and Laura acquired homesteading skills? The contrast there is rather striking. 

11. Is this book about travel? Is this book one of the few that portrays the empty and lonely side of travel?

12. To what degree is Wendy’s emphasis on place misguided? Does she feel more connected to Laura when she’s churning butter in her apartment, or when she’s standing at Walnut Grove? Does this tell us something about memory and nostalgia?

13. What do you think of McClure’s writing style? What might Laura have thought of it? How about Rose?

 Happy Reading and Discussing!

Friday, July 20, 2012

Bee's Memory Bracelet

Last week, I received some very sad news. My old friend, Bee, lost her father to complications after a heart attack. Bee and I have known each other for 10 years. While we've never really been "best friends," we met each other early in our college career because we were in the same (very small) major. We then also wound up in the same grad program at the same grad school, and ultimately were President (her) and Vice-President (me) of a student-run publication on campus during our last year. We've definitely argued plenty during all of these years we've known each other. Underneath all of that, though, we've continued to be friends. It broke my heart to learn the news about Bee's dad, especially because she's the only person I know that's closer to their family than I am. Bee is also planning her wedding for early 2013, and I can't imagine going through all of this sadness while preparing for something so joyful.

I decided to make Bee a bracelet. I know she doesn't wear a lot of jewelry, but I hoped she might have occasion to wear it, especially because she's going to have lots of events in her future, celebrating her dad's life and her marriage, in addition to holidays and other occasions. I wanted to incorporate Bee's Dad's initials into the design in a way that would let her know it was dedicated to him, but that did not scream "Ask me about my bracelet so I'm forced to tell a sad story!"

I decided I wanted some initial beads that were a little more subtle than what you might find at Michaels and JoAnn, which seem to be marketed to kids. I went to my local bead specialty shop, The Bead Monkey, to see if they had something a little different. As I expected, they had a few things that were different! I selected these:
These beads were exceptionally difficult to photograph, and I apologize for how difficult it is to read them. They spell Bee's Dad's initials, JAS. While I was there, I also noticed these "India Glass Beads."
The country-blue color of these beads is Bee's favorite, and I could see in the bin how they popped against the darker blue. I particularly enjoyed shopping for these beads because they were in bulk and I could select the precise ones I wanted with my fingers. I noticed some beads that were cute but pointy, which would probably work for earrings but not for a bracelet. I also found some beads that were designed for double stranded jewelry, and since I wanted to use a single strand, I was able to leave those behind. The beads were perfect and an awesome deal because I got just the right kind in just the right amount.

So this is the finished product! I am a little nervous it's too small for Bee's arm, but hopefully she'll let me know if it doesn't fit, because making it a smidgen bigger wouldn't be hard at all. Because I know Bee is busy with her family, I decided to mail her the bracelet so she would have it sooner - rather than trying to schedule a get-together before giving it to her!
I decoupaged this round box and tied it up with a matching ribbon. I put this and the card in an envelope and shipped it away. I'm thinking of you, Bee!

Thursday, July 19, 2012

It was in the cards...

After tabulating the votes on the blog and in real life, the winner of my query last week became clear in a hurry. I give you the finished product, the Apartment Number Card Frame!
 I trimmed the cards so they're a perfect fit. These are definitely easiest to read. I grabbed some command velcro strips and got to hangin'!

Here it is hanging in its new home. Just for reference, the tan part of the wall is a little niche around my door. The bright white wall on the left side is the end of the hallway, while the white part to the right is the edge of the hall that leads to the elevator.

And here's the final product, at home and everything:
Welcome to Apartment 319!

Wednesday, July 18, 2012

Weird Wednesday

I have a few different weird things on my mind to share with you today!

1. Good Time
Have you heard this song, by Owl City and Carly Rae Jepsen? It has been stuck in my head for just about the last week. I love the lyrics, especially the line "We don't even have to try, it's always a good time." I'm so lucky to have so many friends who fit into that category. If you enjoy pop music, take a listen!

2. Ants on a Log
Yeah, you read that right. Not long ago, I brought cut up veggies and dip to a picnic. I had some celery left over and decided to go old school.
Celery + crunchy peanut butter + raisins!

3. Pajama Pants
Love Nick and Nora. Here are some of the pants they've got for sale right now at Target. I think the ones on the right, with the brightly colored lanterns, are to die for!

4. Here I Go Again on My Own
So, on Sunday night, I was watching a re-run of the Good Wife (don't judge me.) I heard this song, a cover of the famous song you've definitely heard, and it's been the only thing that's over-powered Carly Rae and Owl City (above). Check it out - when you're in a place where you can sing along!

I hope everyone is having a great week!

Tuesday, July 17, 2012

More fancy bracelets...

A while ago, I wrote a post about making some dressy bracelets to wear to work. I liked the ones I made before, but I realized I wanted something with a little more black in it. I wear black pants usually four days of each work week, with gray pants (and black shoes) on the fifth day. I knew that a bracelet featuring black would fit right in with the rest of the wardrobe!
I found these cool beads after I'd started searching for something black and simple. They're just about the plainest beads you could ever imagine. But, I knew that once I matched them up with the other beads in the jewelry-making arsenal, they'd be dressed up in a hurry.

I started with this one: a black bead and a "crystal" seed bead (so called because they have a multi-colored shine rather than just a flat, clear surface).
I also decided to make one featuring larger, faceted, "crystal" beads and some silver spacers. This is what I got:

Here's a shot of the pair:

I'm especially pleased with these because I think they will match nicely with the other two I made before. Now I have a set of four that I can mix and match. Here's the inaugural attempt!

They fit great and look good. Definitely a success!

Monday, July 16, 2012

Sign Language

As you can probably tell if you've spent much time reading this blog, I'm a pretty devoted Target shopper. I think, when you grow up in the Twin Cities, it's hard not to be. For most of my childhood, my mom worked as a programmer at the company's headquarters in Minneapolis. A number of my college classmates were hired to work there after we graduated, and some of my high school friends have also joined in. While I know Target is the opposite of a "mom and pop," I think supporting a corporation that creates jobs in your own community is a little less of a bummer. I also have always thought Target had better stuff and a nicer experience, which were worth the slightly higher prices.

For these reasons, when I venture over to Wal-Mart, it's a special occasion! I feel like I'm never at Wal-Mart just to pop in a pick up one or two specific things. Instead, I'm there to browse and see what kind of interesting things I can find. Though I think they were a little late to the party, Wal-Mart now also has a dollar spot. So, when Ginny and I went there as part of a marathon shopping trip that lasted well into the evening, we dug around and she noticed these bad boys.
I know this picture is a little bit terrible - sorry about the sucky fluorescent lighting! Tin signs for 97 cents? Yes please! It was very tempting to choose more than one, but I did manage to get myself under control. Here's the winner!
Turn right to play games!

I was able to rest the sign on the tiny lip on the door frame in my office. No nail, no command strip, no problem!
Here's a different view so you can see it in context. The art in the wall is just about impossible to photograph well, since it's a canvas that has some glossy enamel at the top. I especially like the position of the sign here because it points towards the living room, the perfect place to play games! A neat little addition for 97 cents!