Wednesday, November 28, 2012

Food Drive

Each year, my alumni association hosts a Christmas Party on campus at my graduate school. I've been lucky enough to be involved with the alumni association since 2010 (having graduated in 2009). My friend, Calla Lily, and I have taken the lead in planning a collection of items for the food shelf during the party as a way of giving back during the holiday season. Last year, I decided I wanted to make us a sign that we could re-use from year to year, but I didn't get things arranged in time.This year, I had a lot of time to get ready, so I went for it!

As always, I started my craft project browsing at Michaels. I'd seen these glittery red letters on a previous trip and had been mulling over using them for this project. By the time I got serious about accomplishing this project this year, these letters were already on clearance. While I was at first imagining some kind of garland, I didn't have a good plan about how I might attach the letters to the garland - especially since I don't have a drill in my arsenal. But, the letters were on display right by the snowflake, and then it struck me!

 I brought the snowflake home, and first painted it with two coats of plain white paint.

 I neglected to take a "before" picture, but this shot of the back side should do the trick. Oh, particle board, you are the reason we are so thankful for paint!
 Next, I covered the white with this glitter paint. Though it might look like it's white in the bottle, it really isn't. The paint is basically clear, with some glitter. I did only one coat.

Then, I glued on the red letters, which were covered with glitter when I bought them. I used Elmer's Glue-All for this project. The applicator tip on my bottle doesn't work the way it should. Despite my best efforts, I have no idea why this is, but I was able to get around it by applying the glue with a paint brush. I put down the plastic bag underneath the project because the glue got all over the place, especially when it came to attaching the outermost letters.

While I was at my parents' house over the Thanksgiving holiday, I sprayed on a fixative because I was worried about the glitter flaking off. Here's the finished product:

One of the concerns when I was getting this sign ready to go was how we were going to display it. Usually, we collect the food on a table that is covered with a standard-issue catering table cloth. There's nothing wrong with that, but we can't really tape anything down. I had a flash of inspiration when I was working on this about just how we could display it!
We're collecting canned goods, right? We'll just use one of them! I bought this jar of spaghetti sauce to use with the sign, and we can either donate it this year or save it for next. I think it will work out perfectly!
While I'd hoped to make this post only after the food drive was over, I've recently learned that I won't be able to make it to the Christmas party because I'll be in the hospital recovering from surgery. That said, I hope that this year's Food Drive participation is awesome. I know you guys won't be at that party, but I hope you'll keep the hungry in mind as you prepare for your Christmas celebrations. Your local food shelf would be happy to have your donation!

Monday, November 26, 2012

Jewelry Workshop

Over the last few weeks, I've noticed a strange accumulation in my apartment. If you've been visiting my little corner of the internet, you might have noticed that I've been making more and more jewelry as this year has gone on. One little problem with the homemade jewelry is that it's less durable than what you might buy at a shop. The good news is that it's not hard to repair!

 The storm cloud pearl necklace separated from its clasp. Unfortunately, this happened while I was at work, but at least the beads were totally contained on the strand.

. I grabbed my pliers and booked it back up. Good as new!

 You might also remember that I made this very simple necklace with the single charm, engraved with the word "Believe." I wanted it to be on an especially fine chain. I was able to make a necklace that was really cute, but the thin chain was quite difficult to work with, even though it looked just right.The clasp fell off, I think because the hardware was too big for the links in the chain.

I made several attempts to get the hardware back on the chain, but ultimately, I think it was just too fine. I had some larger chain in my stash and ultimately realized it would be best to adjust my expectations and use it. It's great!

While I had all my tools out, I decided to work on a couple of other simple projects where I added a charm to a chain!
 I found this cute little C charm at the Bead Monkey on a recent visit. I decided to add a couple of beads to give it a little more depth. I'm a little worried they're going to block the letter, but I thought I would give it a try.

I found this large rhinestone pave pendant at JoAnn as part of the Tori Spelling collection - yikes. I guess they recommend incorporating it with her other pieces to create a huge, loud necklace which just isn't really my style. But, given how much I like this pendant, I decided it was worth it to string it on a plain chain and just wear it by itself. I like it!

Though I procrastinated on making these repairs, I was sure proud when I stood up from the table: four "new" necklaces to put into rotation!

Friday, November 23, 2012


I hope everyone had a fabulous Thanksgiving yesterday! I spent mine with my immediate family, hanging out at home, eating, watching the parade and dog show on TV, and relaxing. I know there are lots of families out there who celebrate the end of Thanksgiving with some holiday shopping. Mine is not one of them. However, it is a tradition in the Marvelous family to begin decorating for Christmas on the day after Thanksgiving (apparently, now always referred to as Black Friday, a name that bums me out).

Today, as usual, I am with my parents helping them decorate at their house. Usually, after I come back to my apartment, I spend Saturday or Sunday decorating my place for the holiday. Because of my surgical schedule, I had to do this task early this year. But, I decided to save the pictures until today so we can all get in the Christmas spirit together!
 First, I got out the "big" tree. Trust me, I recognize that this tree is pretty darn small. It's maybe 3 feet tall (on a good day), but it's the biggest one I have. I'm looking forward to the day when I'm in a more permanent residence and can get a bigger tree. It's coming, I can feel it! For now, I'm using this good ol' boy, which I've been setting up since my sophomore year of college. It used to belong to my grandma, and she's the one who set up the lights, which are clipped to the branches. It's holding up pretty well for its age!

 Here's the mini tree! This one is more like 2 feet tall. I've had this since my first year of college. While I don't get the chance to set it up every year, it makes the place feel more cheery. I decided I could use a little extra this year, so I went for it.

 Alright, the big tree has been dressed with garland! I don't think I would have chosen this puffy silver garland, but Grandma had it, so I've hung onto it. The tree's so short, one strand does the trick!
And here's the little tree, all decked to the nines. I love the red beaded garland. It's a bit expensive for a full-sized tree - though that might not stop me once I have such a tree - but I think it works just perfectly on this little bitty one. Some of these ornaments used to hang on the miniature tree that I had in my room when I was a kid.
And here's a shot of the big tree, all dressed for the season. I love this Christmas-themed bullseye, which has been part of the collection for a long time. With that, the tree house apartment is ready for the Christmas season!

Wednesday, November 21, 2012

The Queen's Lover

Several months ago, I read a review of this novel, by Francine Duplessix Gray, that made me interested in reading this book. I have NO idea what the review said, and when my request at the library was fulfilled, and the book became available, I hadn't a clue why I thought I'd be interested in this book.

Well, I must have known what I was doing, because I loved this book! Seriously, when I picked it up from the library and read the inside cover, I almost returned it immediately because I was very worried it was going to be boring. This is a novel about Marie Antoinette. The title character is Axel von Fersen, a Swedish noble who spent most of his adult life in France. He and the Queen engaged in an affair, though this book is mostly the story of the French Revolution from the perspective of the nobility.

While this book is a novel, most of the characters in the book are real people. The book's format alternates between diary entries written by Axel and those written by his sister, Sophie. She provides a lot of important background information and addresses some of the more difficult topics, like Marie Antoinette's execution. These journal entries, coupled with some letters, are based on actual collections maintained by the French and Swedish governments. Though I majored in French in college, I've always felt that my understanding of the French Revolution was pretty minimal - sometimes, I'm surprised they let me graduate with the major given how little I understand it. I absolutely learned a lot when I read this book, and I bet you would too! Nonetheless, I was engaged in the story and read the book in just a few days. While it's not really "plot driven" - since we already know what's going to happen to Marie Antoinette - it was engaging and provided just the right amount of detail.

My favorite aspect of this book was the interesting perspective of a Swede in France, especially during the era of the Revolution. The cultures of these two nations are different in almost every way. While these differences are tough to put into words, this novel reminded me of my experience arriving in France to study abroad after having spent the previous semester in Norway. It was major culture shock. This cultural divide is illustrated mostly in the chapters narrated by Sophie. One example that stays with me now is her description of Paris as super stinky - the city, as well as the people. She mentions the importance of perfume at Marie Antoinette's court to keep people from passing out. Sweden, however, is described as pristine and orderly; the polar opposite of Versailles.  Sweden, like its neighbors Norway and Denmark, has a well-established tradition of a monarchy whose power is strictly circumscribed. This, of course, was a stark contrast to the excesses of the French regime. While these issues were mentioned in the book as a backdrop, probably to show us why it was so enthralling for Axel to remain in France, they really resonated with me.

This book was a fairly quick read, with an engaging story, and brought to life an interesting situation in Western history. I'd highly recommend it!

Monday, November 19, 2012

Daisy's Birthday

So, a few weeks ago, I got a wild hair about making a set of wine glass charms for Daisy as a birthday gift. I didn't really know what kind of supplies I would need or how I would go about actually making them. But, given how simple they are, I figured a little google research would do the trick. I was right!

I watched this video, which was very helpful. You'll need 20 gauge wire, your typical array of jewelry making pliers, and whatever beads or charms you want to decorate!

 I figured choosing the charms was going to be the most difficult part, and that was certainly true. It seems like my average bead shopping locations really want to sell you 6, or 12, or more of the same charm. That wasn't going to cut it for my design. Luckily, at Michaels, I found the card above with 6 unique charms. These charms are definitely Daisy's style!

 The alternative to unique charms would have been to have multiple bead colors. Unfortunately, its hard to get quantities much smaller than this - of which I used just a tiny fraction to make 6 charms. I figured these variegated red beads would be a great match with the black charms and would be just right for Daisy!

 Here I am sorting through the beads and loading them onto the ring.

 As is explained more clearly in the video, you cut your wire at an appropriate length (mine was 5") and then wrap it around a circular object to form the ring. The video suggests a 1" dowel. Not having that, I chose the next thing: a pill bottle. The wire needs to be long enough that when it is wrapped around the mold, there is some excess at the ends. You then cross these ends and make the hook end on one side: simply grasp the wire with your round nose pliers and bend it back. The video has an excellent demonstration.

 Here they are all together! I sorted through the variegated beads to make different designs. Unfortunately, they are a little bit difficult to see in these photos. Solid colored beads would probably have worked equally well for this project.
 And here's an example of what you'll find at Daisy's next party!

I decided to pair the charms with a bottle of wine, which I picked up at World Market. While there, I found a miniature, decorative Chinese take-out style box which I thought would be a good home for the charms. 
 I know some people say pink and red clash, but I love them! I hope you do to!

Wednesday, November 14, 2012

Makin' Magnets

Nope, this isn't a post about how to actually make something magnetic that isn't already. Instead, this is a post about how to reuse old magnets you might have lying around.

 I decided to use some awesome scrapbook stickers that I had on hand. I'd been wondering for quite some time how to put these to use. In the foreground, you can see the magnet I started with. I like to use magnetic list pads in the kitchen to keep track of groceries I need and tasks around the house I have to do. When the paper is gone, this ugly magnet remains!

 These six magnets are the ones I made! (Please excuse the blue magnet interloper!)

One of the coolest things about this project is that it doesn't really matter much what shape you cut the magnet into, as long as all of its edges are within the confines of the sticker. So, I did my best to hack apart this thick piece of magnet with regular scissors, and this is the result.

 For the magnets that are covered by the gold flowers, I actually used a different magnet for the back: a super thin, flexible magnet that was initially an advertisement sent to me by a business. I suspect you have at least a few magnets like this in your house, unless you've thrown them away already! I didn't need the magnet to remind me of the business's phone number, so I included it in this project.

 After finding an interesting metal board at JoAnn's, and making these magnets, I packed the whole thing up and brought it down to my cubicle. The tech staff just recently put a new computer on my desk that's a little bit of a different shape than the old one, so I found myself with some free space for a little more decor.
And here's the final finished product! I had a couple of beautiful cards (both of which were sent to me by Violet) that complement the color of the board and magnets. This project was super simple! You can use the magnets on any metallic surface: a file cabinet, a mirror, a pizza pan, or even a refrigerator. Plus its nice to find a creative reuse for otherwise dull magnets that might end up in a landfill.

Monday, November 12, 2012

The First Snow

Yes, ladies and gentlemen, it's here! Today, November 12, is the first snow of the season!

I know I'm probably a little crazy for being excited about this. Nevertheless, I'm most excited about the circumstances: I was able to watch the big, fat flakes slowly drift down from the comfort (meaning warmth) of my apartment. Also, because my workplace is observing Veterans' Day today, I don't have anywhere I have to go. And word is, the roads are slick and drivers are unprepared. I also feel especially fortunate to have spotted this scene because I woke up earlier than I had planned. I could have stayed in bed, but I would have missed actually seeing the snow fall had I done so. Instead, I woke up early and found a winter wonderland. What a perfect First Snow!

Friday, November 9, 2012

The Thrifty Federalist

A couple of weekends ago, I had the chance to go on a thrift shop excursion with several of the girls from my book club. Why did book club wind up out thrifting? I guess that's a good question. It seems like just about all of the girls in the group enjoy thrifting or antiquing. But, it was also clear at the beginning that everyone had a different favorite spot. Once we got to talking, it seemed like an awesome outing to get together and spend the afternoon visiting most of the suggested favorites. I enjoyed having places on our agenda that were familiar, as well as some that were not!

At one place I'd never been before, a shop called It Takes A Village, at 34th Street and Chicago in South Minneapolis, I hit the jackpot. I found dishes that match my dishes! This was the very best thing I could ever have imagined finding!
 Here they are: 2 dessert plates and 2 dinner plates!

 This pattern is called Federalist Ironstone. It's a super durable collection of ceramic dishes. Up until this addition, the entirety of my collection came from my grandparents' house. When I was in college, my dad's dad passed away after a brief, ferocious battle with brain cancer. He left a house full of furnishings, including these dishes, which my parents packed up and brought back to Minnesota from St. Louis.

These dishes were sold in big sets at Sears during the 1960s and 70s. My dad's mom, who passed away when I was a baby, picked them out. I brought the dishes to my first apartment mostly because I didn't have anything else. I've treated them pretty roughly in the time I've had them, using them in the microwave and washing them in the dishwasher. I like that my grandma chose them and I think they're beautiful. So, over time, I've grown to love them and think of them as an heirloom.

 The new additions were mostly in pretty good shape. This dessert plate was marked by some stains and covered in crazing (cracks below the surface). I have another piece that's covered in crazing as well, and I've treated it just as roughly for the 6 years I've used these as my everyday dishes and it doesn't seem to be any worse for the wear. Plus, since they were only asking 50 cents each for the dessert plates, I figured I would just throw it away if it broke.

Does this pattern look familiar to you? I think they bear an uncanny resemblance to the Ikea Arv collection, available at everybody's favorite Swedish retailer. In fact, when I spotted them, I assumed that's what they were. The scale of the pattern, and the shade of the ceramic, are quite similar. But, I found this telltale stamp on the back, and then I knew for sure they were coming home with me!

I'm happy to report that these new additions to my collection have safely survived their first trip through the dishwasher. I was hoping this experience would take care of the stains on the dessert plate pictured above, but unfortunately, it did not. Otherwise, everything held up great! The new plates are now in the stack along with the old ones. What a great find! I'll be sure to head back to It Takes A Village!

Wednesday, November 7, 2012

The Darlings

Several months ago, I read a review of this book, by Cristina Alger. After what felt like eons on the waiting list, my copy finally came in at the library!

I would definitely recommend this book! It tells the story of a family, the Darlings, and the collapse of their hedge-fund business during the financial turmoil of recent years. The entire collapse unfurls during the course of one tense Thanksgiving weekend, making it a perfect fit to read during this season. This story includes plenty of insight into the technical basis for the financial collapse, as well as the effects of the rapid loss of wealth on those who had enjoyed it. Before picking up this novel, I expected that its tale would focus blame on one political approach or another: pointing the finger at either too much regulation or not enough as the underlying cause of the financial collapse. I was really impressed that the author avoided this temptation and told a story about a business that collapsed for reasons that were basically independent of the political process.

This book reminded me a lot of the very best movie I've seen regarding the financial crisis: Margin Call. The primary similarity between these two narratives is the way they present the convergence of multiple perspectives. For example, in the book, we move through time in chronological order, including a statement of the date and time at the beginning of each chapter. However, the author effortlessly bounces from one narrator to another, telling the story from a range of viewpoints. In fact, one of the viewpoints that was the most important was that of the administrative staff to very powerful people. (This happened in Margin Call, also.) These two stories were also similar in that they described a mystery unraveling in a hurry, which made the "time-stamped" chapters an even more effective way to tell the story. The only part of this book I enjoyed even more than Margin Call was the added component of how making tough decisions affected relationships within the family. I'm definitely a sucker for that kind of drama! Overall, I enjoyed this book a ton and would certainly recommend it!

Tuesday, November 6, 2012

Don't forget...

That's right, my favorite time of year is here once again!
You have a chance to do your civic duty today - don't miss out! Your country is counting on you!

Do you like this image? I made it using some sweet Picasa features and a photo of this, my very favorite totebag!
I wish you all short lines at the polling places and an exciting night of watching the returns!

Monday, November 5, 2012

The Second Baby Hat

Some of you might remember that, early in the summer, I crossed a big threshold in my knitting skills: I learned how to knit with double pointed needles. I was very excited to make my first DPN project: a baby hat! I didn't really have a pattern and wound up making this disaster. Yikes!

As an aside, I've now realized just how lucky I am to have friends who are so supportive. One even referred to this train wreck as "cute" - seriously, I'm blessed to be so encouraged! I also received encouragement in the form of advice from another friend, Clover, who has much more knitting experience than I do. Clover first pointed out to me that my problem was using only 4 needles. This meant that, at any given time, there were stitches on three needles with one additional needle working. No surprise, then, that the top turned out somewhat triangular. Clover suggested that using 5 needles (requiring me to buy another set of four - those needle-making jerks!) would almost certainly help things. She also recommended I modify a pattern she'd used in the past. The pattern was to make a cute little hat with a stem top. I was looking for something simpler, but Clover suggested I could make a few changes and get just what I wanted, and she was definitely right! With a few simple adjustments, my pattern was ready to go. Here's the result!

 Ahhhh! It actually looks like a hat!

 Here's a view of it standing up by itself. Yep, this hat is so well constructed that it can stand up on its own!

 This is the inside. I know its not meant to be viewed from this angle, but I think it looks neat even from this angle. It's something that looks nice enough it could be given as a gift - which is, of course, the reason I want to make baby-sized hats in the first place!

And here's a view of the top! I made a little mistake in modifying the pattern to remove the stem that's supposed to come out of the center, so it's got a little more of a nipple top than I had intended. It's not super obvious, and I made this one just for practice anyways, so I'm thinking about how to eliminate that feature next time.

Overall, the only real surprise I encountered with this finished product is that it's bigger than I had expected. I used a different gauge yarn, which is probably to blame, though the gulf between what I planned and what I got is probably even bigger than the yarn alone can explain. It was my plan to make the hat the right size for a newborn. Instead, when I showed it to Ginny, she put it on 10 month old Miss M, for whom it was basically too big! She told me she thought it would probably be just the right size for 3 year old Mr. O. Wow! I've got to do more to investigate what size would be right for a newborn and then make adjustments accordingly. Either way, this one makes me proud!

Thursday, November 1, 2012

FD: Master Bedroom

So here we are, the final stop on the tour of the Tree House apartment. The master bedroom!

 Here's the main part of the room. Please excuse the icky cords by the window - they've been messy for so long, I've become immune to them I guess.

 Here's a close-up of some of the art, along with my nightstand.

 And here's some more of the art. The two paintings on the wall behind the TV set were painted by a friend of my grandmother's who traveled to China.

 And here's my dresser, where I put on my jewelry every morning.

 I kind of like the "up-high" angle in this shot.

 I kind of like this one with the lamps on, though their light gets kind of blown out.

 Here's the room as seen from the doorway. I think these lights look a little better than the pink lampshades.

 This little decoration was a gift long ago from a very dear friend. I've always hung it on the wall in my room, even in the dorm! I like the lighting and the perspective in this shot.

 Here's the hallway leading to the en suite bathroom. Those large white spaces on the right are my tremendously dull closet doors.

 Here's my little bitty master bathroom.

 Here's the tie rack where I keep most of my necklaces. It's pretty plain jane, but it does the trick. Also, to the right, there's the memo board that contains my favorite quote - bonus points if you can identify the movie it's from!

 Here's the rest of the master bath. Notice anything missing? That's right: it's a half bathroom, with no shower or tub. Weird? Yes, definitely. But, I suppose that the people who designed the apartment understood that if there were two people living here, the one thing they might really want would be a second toilet.

So, there you have it: the completed tour of my apartment. I hope you've enjoyed looking at the pictures. It was definitely a good experience for me to take the pictures and then see them on the computer screen and try to describe them for my friendly readers before I submit my materials to the Small Cool Contest over at Apartment Therapy in 2013. Hopefully this will help me take my best photos and select the right mix!