30 March 2009

Munchkin Love

Jason and I are game people. We tend to go through phases. In the beginning of our relationship, it was Quiddler. Senior year, we moved on to Settlers of Catan with all its glorious variations and expansions. Once we got married and moved away from our gaming community, we had to find 2 player games. We went back to Quiddler for a while. We had a Mille Bornes phase, Phase 10, Backgammon, Battleship, Mario Kart Wii...you get the idea. We love the more intense nerdy games, too, but we tend to get hooked on games that are fun with 2 people and that last about 20 minutes or less. We currently have a new addiction. Come into our apartment at just about any time of day or night, and you are likely to find us playing Munchkin.

Munchkin is a card game where you defeat monsters and collect their treasure in an attempt to gain strength levels. That's the basic premise, and I must admit, the first couple times I played it, I was underwhelmed. But the thing that makes this game super fun is 1) it's different every time you play, and 2) the cards are so gloriously random. For example, you can be a Half-Breed Elf-Orc Wizard-Cleric with a Wand of Napalm, a Cheesegrater of Peace, the Boots of Butt-kicking, and a Cute Shoulder Dragon, battling a Hippogriff with a wandering Lame Goblin who is also Intelligent and Humongous!!! How fun is that?!?

Alright, I'll momentarily cease with my nerdyness and get onto last week's make. Basically, Jason and I got the first expansion set (Munchkin 2: Unnatural Axe), and it came with 5 blank cards. Now this is the sort of thing that I would generally make big plans for and then end up throwing away, knowing that my plans could never reach their full potential with my limited skillz. No longer. Instead, this turned into one of my favorite kinds of makes: a make that was 1) a result of some very fun brainstorming, 2) made with someone else, and 3) a fun and useful addition to my life. Jason and I schemed some very fun and random cards, planned out all their little details, designed them, and drew them. And we did it all together! Here's what we came up with:
(Disclaimer: sorry the pictures are a little dark and fuzzy. :o/ Clicking on the picture above will give you a clearer picture of all of the cards.)
Please allow me to explain them because they're just so fun. (If you tire of Munchkin talk, you can skip this paragraph.) There's a Super Duper Munchkin Class card, which allows you to simultaneously be 3 classes with all of their advantages and none of their disadvantages. ...Of Justice! gets added onto another item; so for instance, the Barbecue Fork would become the Barbecue Fork of Justice! Dawn of the Dead resurrects the last two monsters in the discard pile and makes you fight them. The Armor of God is a sweet item that gives you a +9 battle bonus. And then there's the Oompa Loompa of Doompa monster. The card reads: "He thinks you ate his candy. Bad move, Mister." (If you want to know more about Munchkin, go here.)

This was a super fun make for Jason and me. It was a little bit tedious, drawing them out, then drawing them on the cards in pencil, then tracing over them in pen...but I am so glad that we took the time to do this. Like I said, doing something to improve an activity that we both really enjoy, getting to do it together, and being completly random and silly...it was good for my soul, good for our marriage. Thanks, Jason, for being silly and making these with me. You are the very bestest Elf Wizard ever. :o)

24 March 2009


Last week was a week of indecision. I knew that would come eventually...a week when I would jump from idea to idea, just to reject each one about 7 minutes into brainstorming because I wanted to use that fabric for something else, or I didn't have this tool that I needed...you get the point. So it came down to Saturday. And I hadn't done much of anything...and Twilight came out on DVD...so I was a little stuck. Give into my obsession of the past 4 months and watch Twilight, or follow through on my promise to myself that I would make something? In the end, I decided to do both.

Every day, I go on Etsy for a little bit of inspiration. The other day I found this:
Love love love it. I love the thickness of the paint, the contrasting colors, the simplicity of the design. What I did not love was that it was being sold in the $200+ range. And it's been sold since I found it less than a week ago. (Do you see this, Megan? This would probably take you what...an hour or so? You should never ever worry about money, dearest. Pick up a paintbrush!) Anyway, I decided that I didn't need to spend that much money and that I wouldn't like to have a 4 painting series anyway, so I set out to make my own triptych.

By the time I decided to do this, I was already home for the night, having gone out and bought Twilight. Now that the movie was in my possession, I was not willing to head back out for canvases and oil paint. So I improvised. I popped the movie into the DVD player, sent Jason into the other room to work on his sermon for the next morning, and sat down in front of the TV with a sketchbook and a big 120 count box of crayons. I picked my palette and started drawing circles. I covered every exposed bit of white. I spent about an hour on each one, which sounds like a lot of time, but it didn't feel like it when I was keeping company with vampires. Here was the result:
(Disclaimer: I apologize for the poor quality of this picture...the glass of the frames is really reflective, so it posed a challenge. You get the idea.)
I now have them hanging in my office, a little splash of color on the wall that shares the door. I put them there so I wouldn't have to explain them to my passing coworkers. I feel like they're kind of silly. I love crayons because I have them and because I don't have the slightest hesitation about using them. Fabric runs out, and then what if I can't find that pattern again? I hoard it until I can find a project that is just right for it, and even then, I cut it with just a bit of sadness and regret. Paint is kind of expensive. And I don't know what to do with it really, so I feel like it's always a waste. But crayons...they are a cheap and unlimited resource. And I feel absolutely no guilt of spending three hours worth of crayon on a silly little triptych. But when it comes to the end result, it's hard for me to give it credibility. It's hard for me to consider crayons as a legitimate medium for "art." Doodles? Yes. Sketches for planning projects? Absolutely. But Art? To be framed and hung on a wall? To masquerade in place of works done by legitimate artists with legitimate media?

But in the end, I'm pretty sure that how I feel with a crayon in my hand is what this little venture is all about. Freedom, empowerment, license to create, to loose the shackles of legitimacy and simply to make. So there it is, my little triptych, and my little challenge to you to make something silly, to take joy in picking up a box of crayons or some popsicle sticks or whatever other medium you have abandoned to the hands of children. And remember how it feels to create something and to have it hung on the refrigerator and to know that you are an artist.

19 March 2009

A Few Sweet Finds and a Little Sweet Goodness

Essex, MA actually has the most antique shops per capita in the country, maybe in the world. You'd think that would be pretty awesome, but there are really only 2 or 3 worth going to. The rest are all "real antiques" for "serious antique people." But for people like me looking for a sweet deal and a little inspiration, there is The White Elephant Outlet.

Last Saturday, Jason and I set out for The White Elephant with a bit of cash and the hope of finding a creative spark for me and some Cubs baseball cards for Jason. Unfortunately, the White Elephant people put their huge box of assorted cards into a vending machine type deal that spits out 3 random cards for 50 cents. So without the option of sorting through for Cubbies, Jason sorely was disappointed, and The White Elephant lost a good 2 or 3 dollars worth of revenue. Serves them right.

But on my end, The White Elephant did not disappoint. Here's what I found:

I couldn't resist the 7 pear-shaped plates for a total of 5 dollars. I've decided that I'm going to use them as fondue plates. Does anybody know if that's what they actually are? The old copper something (jello mold?), which will soon be hanging in my kitchen, was 6 dollars. I splurged a bit ($12) on the sweet oval footed frame that used to be a mirror. It will eventually be the display of some lovely artlet (a word i made up which means little art project). Any ideas?

And now for the sweet goodness...I tried another new recipe on Saturday. It's a chocolate raspberry bundt cake. Here's the recipe:

1 box devils food cake mix
1 box of chocolate pudding mix
4 eggs
1/2 cup of vegetable oil
1/2 cup of water
1 cup of sour cream
1/4 cup of raspberry liqueur

2 cups (1 bag) of mini chocolate chips
1/4 cup of seedless raspberry jam
powered sugar
fresh raspberries

Toss the cake mix, pudding mix, eggs, vegetable oil, water, sour cream, and raspberry liqueur in a bowl, and mix with an electric mixer on low until it’s all blended. Then bump the mixer up to medium speed, and mix for 4 minutes, stopping every so often to scrape the sides of the bowl with a rubber spatula.

Add the chocolate chips. Stir those in. Then stir in the jam.

Pour the batter into a well-greased bundt pan. Bake for 50-60 minutes. It’s done when a toothpick inserted into the cake comes out clean. (Keep in mind that there will be melted chocolate chips, so it may not be totally clean.) Take the cake out, and let it cool for 10-15 minutes before removing the cake from the pan. Dust the top with powered sugar, and you’re ready to go! I served it with fresh raspberries to add a little sweet/tart contrast to the rich chocolate cake. Delicious!

Unfortunately, I was in quite a rush to get the cake to dinner with the same friends that I made the infamous A/C raspberry vinagrette for. This time, I did the 10-15 minute cooling stage in the car (holding it up with oven mitts), flipped the cake onto a plate when we parked the car, and dusted it with powdered sugar on the walk up to the door. My lateness meant that the cake was still warm with melted, gooey chocolate chips by the time we got to dessert. But it also meant that I didn't have time to take a picture for you. I guess you'll just have to use your imagination. Or you can make one for yourself. :o) Enjoy!

All full!!

Here it is! Last week's make!
20 wool felted balls in assorted colors, 17 made by me and 3 made by Jason. Here are two views of them in the vase:
I loved the ideas that everyone gave. But in the end, this project was just what I needed. It was mindless, the sort of thing I could do in little doses, and since I already had all of the wool, it only cost about a dollar for a couple of bars of ivory soap. Here's what I did:
I used a grater to shave some soap into a large bowl. Then I added warm water and got it all soapy. Then I just wrapped white wool roving into a ball, getting it wet and agitating it along the way to make the fibers felt together. Once it was the size I wanted, I decorated the outside with colorful wool. In hindsight, it probably would have been a good idea to start with a tinfoil form or something to save myself some wool and some time, but I liked the idea of the balls being completely made out of wool, and I have so much of it! I couldn't resist. Here's how it looks now on my bookshelf: I think it's quite a colorful improvement.
And with all this talk of vases and filling them...Jason got me roses, too. :o)

17 March 2009

Always playing catch up!

Man oh man, am I behind! I guess that's what happens when Spring Break is over, professors come back, and time that was happily--though maybe not ought-ly--devoted to blogging becomes devoted to work time again. And that leaves me with so much to share and so little time to share it in and the camera conveniently forgotten on the counter at home. Humph. I guess in the mean time, here is a little snidbit of things to come:

1) Pictures and directions for last week's make. Here's a little hint: it included lots of wool, a bar of ivory soap, some water, and some very pruney hands...
2) An excursion to the local antique outlet, where everything is marked up double so that they can advertise that everything is half off. Clever. But I actually did find some good finds, including some inspiration for a future project!
3) I made a new kind of cake! I forgot to take pictures, but I fully intend on posting the recipe because it was delicious! Chocolate Raspberry Bundt Cake...mmm...
4) Inspiration for this week's project is coming soon because I want to give you all time to join in the fun! I'm thinking maybe a sewing project this week. We shall see...
5) And for a bit of penance for this post in place of a "real" post, here is a link to an album that Amazon is offering for free. I'm not sure how long they'll be offering this, so get on it. It's not bad for a free sampler, nice and mellow...music that would be just lovely to craft to. Enjoy!!

11 March 2009

All Empty or All Full?

And now that I'm all caught up...let's get started with Week 5 Inspiration!! Readygo!

One night in Disney World, Jason and I came back to a lovely surprise in our room. There were rose petals everywhere, a bunch of little goodies, chocolate Mickey Mouse ears, candles, and a beautiful bouquet of red roses! My mom had gotten it for us as a little "Happy Honeymoon" present. Yeah, she's pretty awesome.

I figured it was not an inexpensive surprise, so I decided to take as much of it with me as possible, including the very large vase. I got it to fit in my backpack along with some other equally breakable (and equally heavy) goodies, and we got it safely back to Boston. It was so pretty that I couldn't bear to store it away awaiting the proper bouquet to draw it out of the closet. Instead, I decided to display it in the living room.

Yesterday, as I was thinking about what my weekly make should be, I noticed that my pretty vase looks a little silly all empty like that. So I've decided to let it be the inspiration for this week's make.

What would you fill it with?

I thought about flowers, but keeping it filled with fresh flowers could get expensive. (Side note: Jason is very good about getting me flowers for no reason at all. Usually he gets baby roses. Lately he's been expanding his repertoire to gerber daises and other colorful bundles. But they're usually pretty small, and I like it that way because they fit perfectly on a little ledge we have in our kitchen. So don't think the vase is empty on his account.)

I thought about hunting down more little globes like the one sitting next to it (a present from my sister Amy). But I couldn't find any on etsy, and it would take way too long (and be way too expensive) to track down enough to fill the vase.

I considered buttons or bouncy balls, stones or shells from the beach. But in the end, I settled on making something. It's a project that Jason and I are going to do together, and I'm pretty excited about it. But for now, I'm going to leave you hanging because maybe you have a similar vase, and maybe if I leave this open-ended, you'll come up with a cool project that you can fill it with. Any ideas??

A little bit Country, a little bit Rock n Roll

That's me. But not country as in a musical genre. Country as in I grew up on a sheep farm in the middle of the woods. And I love that about myself. But as far as designing style, I tend to stay far away from those roots. However, I found myself inspired for Week 4 by some chickeny fabric and a ruffly apron pattern, and here was the result:The fabric is from my mom's unlimited supply. You can't really tell, but the yellow fabric has a feathery design on it, and the lighter fabric actually has little chicken footprints. The pattern is from a Better Homes & Garden's magazine. Generally, I tend to design my own projects from start to finish, but I figured it was about time for me to try my hand at some patterns. How else will I ever learn anything new? This may not have been a good one to start with. The ruffles and the bias tape made it a little tricky. And in the end, I did end up making some changes to the pattern. I added a backing; I skipped the fusible webbing; and I did the pockets a little differently than they wanted me to. I also added an adorable little applique rooster.
My mom guided me through the process--that's her modeling the apron above--which was super helpful because I would have had no clue how to gather ruffles or cut bias strips. And when we put the backing on, the easiest way was just to hand stitch it, so we each took a side and met in the middle.

My original intention was to make the apron my first piece of inventory. Part of the point of The Weekly Make is to help me build up a collection of handmade items that I can sell on etsy and at craft shows. But it's not quite perfect, so I think I'm going to keep it. (Also, I kinda fell in love with it.) It's going to be my craft show apron, and the pockets will be my money pockets, and hopefully the thought of those pockets getting filled up (so I can buy more things to make) will help me to develop the ability to part with my future handmade lovelies.

Pretty Yummys

Week 3 brought several culinary treats to the Weekly Make. I was singed up to make dessert for our church's marriage group, which is called "Cheesecake and Chat." So naturally, I made cheesecake...well two actually...and one was a double batch...and my friend Rachel made a Kahlua Chocolate bundt cake. All told, it was a very yummy evening. The first cheesecake was a classic New York Style Cheesecake, which I served with cherry pie-filling topping.
Then I made a double batch of Mini Chocolate Peanut Butter Cheesecakes. (They each had a little surprise chocolate kiss inside!) I had every intention of making these beautiful little masterpieces, but the chocolate was being difficult. It couldn't decide whether it wanted to burn my hands through my pastry bag or cool and harden too quickly. So goodbye, swirls and stars and good intentions, and hello, simple tic-tac-toe squares. (The ones in the corners marked the poor attempts at more complicated decorations. I eventually gave up on them and just dumped a bunch of chocolate on top. I figure, when all else fails, more chocolate!)When I decided to make the peanut butter cheesecakes, Jason was a little sad that he wouldn't get an Irish Creme Cheesecake, so I made one of those, too...for our own consumption.Then Jason and I got invited over to a new friend's house for dinner. I asked if I could bring anything, secretly hoping they would need dessert so Jason and I wouldn't be eating cheesecake for all of eternity--not that that would be the worst fate. It turned out that they already had dinner and dessert covered but asked if I could bring a salad. Now when I entertain at home, I usually just get those lovely Fresh Express bagged salads that have the lettuce and the dressings and all of the little fixings in little bags that just need to be opened and tossed together. But these were new friends, so I wanted to make a good impression. I decided to make a spinach salad with strawberries, craisins, sunflower seeds, and candied walnuts with a raspberry vinaigrette dressing. I forgot to take a picture of the salad itself, but the dressing was so pretty that I couldn't resist. It had pureed raspberries (with the seeds strained out...which took forever), red wine vinegar, sugar, cinnamon, crushed cloves, and celery seeds. Delicious...and pretty, too.
But because the raspberry seeds took so long, I ran out of time for the dressing to cool properly. So Jason and I drove for about 20 minutes with the air conditioning on full blast with me holding the dressing up to the air vent...in February...in New England. By the time we got there, I was frantically trying to warm up my fingers (knowing I'd be meeting new people and would have to shake hands) and Jason's teeth were chattering. Note to self: always check the recipe for "cooling time." We had a lovely time eating together and playing games and meeting new friends. And then on the way home, I spilled the dressing all over myself. Awesome. But with some help from Shout, everything came out all right in the end.

10 March 2009

Week 2: Shaking Off the Boxes

For my second week of my Weekly Make, I was in Disney World. Which was awesome. Magic and inspiration were everywhere. But my time and supplies for making were limited. So this week lead to a make that was not quite so impressive or useful as a purse. But this little endeavor isn't about making impressive things. It's about being disciplined in creative action and doing something without so much worry about the result or what you're going to do with the result. So what I had with me was a new sketch set that I got at Barnes & Noble. I've been meaning to make one rather than buy one--I have this really sweet idea for another messenger bag with slots sewn in for pencils and a special pocket for a sketch book--but like so many other issues I have with making stuff, my vision far exceeds my skill and my discipline. I over-complicate the project, and I hardly ever even start let alone finish. So rather than waiting around until I actually could put in the hours to make my perfect little vision, I went out and bought a sketch set. And this is the sketch I sketched in it while waiting in the airport on Valentine's Day:
To you, this might just seem like a silly little sketch. And it is. It's Jason and me sitting on a stump. He's reading Greek, and I'm reading Twilight. Clearly, a silly little sketch. But for me, this marks a major milestone. Growing up in a family of 3 girls, in order to avoid sibling rivalry, each of us had our own little category. Amy was the pretty one. Megan was the talented one. And I was the smart one. This little system extended into extra-curriculars, too. For instance, Amy and Megan did babysitting, so I didn't. (And now, incidentally, I have no idea what to do with a baby.) I started taking art lessons, but then Megan started taking art lessons, and she was amazing. So I stopped. I let her have her thing. I didn't even doodle! As it turns out, Amy and Megan didn't ascribe to the system nearly so much as I did. Maybe it was because I was the youngest, seeking out some solid identity in the shadow of 2 amazing sisters who went before me. When I got into Wheaton and I could no longer be the smart one, I started to identify myself in other ways. The one I clung to the tightest was songwriting, and for a long time, that was my medium for my creative outlet, therapy, and self-definition.

I haven't given up on songwriting, but it's harder now. It's been bundled up with a lot of baggage, and it doesn't hold the healing it once held. So I'm looking to other creative media. And that has been difficult. Because drawing is Megan's thing. And all other craftiness is Amy's thing. And then there's my mom who can do everything (although she was never boxed up in my little system...mostly because I want to be just like her and feel no guilt in being a shameless little copy-cat).

To make a very long story just a little shorter, the point of this post is that this little sketch marks a turning point in my creative permission. I will never be an artist like Megan is. I will never be able to match her perfect skill for portraits and shadowing and realism. But I can and will pick up a few colored pencils and draw. Even if it's silly. Even if it ends up looking terrible. I will allow myself to take the vision from my imagination and express it on paper, and I will silence the voices in my head that say, "It's not worth it because it will never look as good as you imagined." To those voices, I say, "It is worth it. Because if it stays in my head, I'll just lose it. And vision not quite realized is still better than vision lost, vision wasted." No more wasted vision. I'm letting myself experiment. I'm shaking off the boxes. And it feels like fresh air in my lungs.

Here's another drawing I did a few weeks later while Jason was watching Lord of the Rings or something. Rather than requesting that we put something else on and ending up watching something that neither of us really want to watch, I grabbed a sketch book and my box of crayons and I set out to draw a Tiger that we saw in Disney World. Well, the tiger ended up looking more like a wolf, so I figured I might as well throw Little Red Riding Hood into the mix (because she's so trendy on etsy right now). Here's what I came up with:
I'm a little happier with how this one turned out. It took on a life of its own and told me what it wanted to be. It was a fun little exercise in losing myself to the creative process, free from all of the existential ponderings of what this says about my creative abilities or lack thereof.

So how about you? What is holding you back from silly little sketches? or picking up a paint brush or some knitting needles? Give yourself permission to try something new this week. Give yourself permission to make something silly. And have a little fun!

09 March 2009

My First Solo-Sew

I was going to Disney World in 3 days, and I didn't have a purse that was quite the right size. So I decided to make one out of some fabric that had been in the running for my bridesmaids' favors (purses filled with lots of little goodies). That means I've had this sweet canvas fabric just sitting around for over a year and a half, just waiting for the perfect little project to be brought to life. And here it is.
It's just a basic canvas messenger bag. I lined the inside with some muslin and used that fabric to add a little applique bird to the front, sewed on with my impeccable hand-stitching. For the strap, I bought some canvas webbing and wrapped it with my pretty little canvas fabric, folding the edge under and sewing a neat little line down the center of the strap.

If I made this bag again, there are a few things I would do differently. The proportions are a little off. And it definitely needs some interior pockets. But in the end, the bag was all I needed it to be and more.
Here is a picture of me and Jason and my little messenger bag in front of the Muppets fountain in Disney's MGM Studios, which has recently been renamed Disney's Hollywood Studios. (What's with that? I was somewhat comforted when all of the bus drivers still called it MGM.) Jason and I had a magical week in Disney World, as you would expect. It was so wonderful to be able to just enjoy spending some time together shirking responsibility, having fun, and remembering why we fell in love in the first place. My purse was just a small token in the context of such a grand and glorious week. But it was nice to have the little reminder that I would be coming home to more creativity and imagination at work. Just like Figment tells us, "Imagination, imagination...a dream can be a dream come true with just that spark from me and you." And yes, now that song will be in my head for the rest of the day.
So there you have my first Weekly Make. That was almost 4 weeks ago, and I've been going strong so far. But that means that I have a lot of catch-up posts to do. I figure I'll try to space them out a bit...just to keep you guessing. :o) In the mean time, happy making!!

05 March 2009

coming soon...

Alright, I am dying to get this blog up and running. But I have this issue with getting my projects, a camera, a cord, a computer, and working internet all together in one place at the same time. The past three weeks have held some exciting creative ventures that I can't wait to send flying into the blogosphere. (Maybe that word is dorky, but I don't care. I like it.) They've included a purse (my first solo-sew), a few "drawings," and a couple of impressive culinary experiments, if I do say so myself. Pictures and descriptions and scribblings on my creative processes are all soon to come. I know...the anticipation is killing me, too!