Tuesday, January 29, 2013

Book of cards

I was just telling a friend yesterday that the real reason I make stuff is to avoid doing actual chores like dishes and laundry.  Here's what form my procrastination took today.  (Yes, there are still a few remnants of Christmas scattered throughout our house.  I'm really hoping to get those bins closed up this weekend so that Matt can put them in the attic for me by the start of February.)
Our Christmas cards went from this:
 to this:
It's not my original idea.  I saw it on Pinterest or someone's blog.  In the past I have chopped the cards up and made scrapbook-type pages out of them, but this method is faster, plus more fun for the kids to flip through.
And for good measure, I did a little decoupaging instead of sorting that ever-present pile of mail and school papers.
The M stands for "Maybe we'll have leftovers tonight."

Friday, January 25, 2013

Retro Friday: Tangy Taffy!

Pregnancy aches and pains plus allergies plus a nasty little virus that has worked its way through our family equals me not blogging for a while.  But I'm feeling better today & want to share something sweet.
Did anyone out there eat Tangy Taffy as a kid?  I used to save up my change and buy it at 7-11 when I was a kid.  Then in college, there was a gas station just down the block from my apartment where they sold it, plus a cute boy often worked the cash register.  So I started saving my change for them again.  Anyway, they used to look like this:
Then at some point, the brand was purchased by Wonka (owned by Nestle), and now it looks like this:
Don't be fooled, though!  Not all candy labeled Laffy Taffy tastes as good as the original Tangy Taffy.  Laffy Taffys come in small bite sized pieces (which taste gross) and long ropes (which taste gross).  The only ones that taste tangy (and good) are the flat bar-shaped Laffy Taffy.  And of those, I've only tried grape and cherry, which are the ones I ate as a kid.
Since our recent reading of Charlie and the Chocolate Factory, my kids have been fascinated with candies that carry the Wonka label.  I picked up two of these grape taffy bars while grocery shopping solo yesterday, and I ate one in one sitting.  Then I took a look at the label and learned that one bar contains 19 grams, or about FIVE teaspoons, of sugar.  Then I took a look at the calendar and learned that I'm scheduled for my routine gestational diabetes screening in about three weeks.  So maybe I'll reschedule this trip down memory lane until sometime after May.

Wednesday, January 16, 2013


At the start of a new year, I always feel the urge to pull out my beads and make some jewelry. 

Monday, January 14, 2013

Weekend color

I spent Saturday exploring Austin and eating candy with my big boy.  We saw lots of beautiful color, and even had our picture taken by a guy with a dyed-blue goatee.

Friday, January 11, 2013

Retro Friday: melted plastic popcorn

Another Friday, another piece of vintage Christmas decor that reminds me of my childhood.  Have you ever heard of melted plastic popcorn?  I hadn't until I found this in a thrift shop:
His red nose was mostly broken off, so I hot glued a puff ball on there, plus I added the ribbon to help hang it on the wall.
We had a couple of these decorations when I was growing up; ours were a Mickey Mouse dressed as Santa and a Donald Duck carrying presents.  Here's the best photo I could find of them, on the window ledge, circa 1983.  (Aww...Dad helping baby Jill open a present, plus Rachel rocking a Dorothy Hamill haircut.)
When I showed my Rudolph treasure to my sister-in-law Kelly, she said the her family had a witch in the same style.  After a bit of googling, she discovered the official term of "melted plastic popcorn", which of course led to a couple hours wasted on etsy and eBay by yours truly. 
Then in a strange coincidence, about a week later I was walking past my neighbor's house as she was loading her car with donations meant for Goodwill.  She asked me to take a look and see if I wanted any of their outbound kid toys, and I saw a black hat made of melted plastic popcorn sticking out of a bag.  I probably startled her with my enthusiasm.  "Holy cow!  Is that the witch?  Was it yours as a kid?  Why are you getting rid of it?"  Alas, it wasn't a witch, but a jack-o-lantern with the same kind of hat as the witch.  My neighbor's mom had gotten it in an estate sale grab bag, and her family had no interest in keeping it.
You better believe we brought this guy home and added him to our collection.  Does two items count as a collection?
My internet searching has told me that the witch is fairly easy to buy, though a little pricey, but the Mickey Mouse Santa is going to be near impossible to find.  I plan to keep stalking my neighbors' outgoing junk piles.

Monday, January 7, 2013

Chair recovery

I have an antique kitchen table set that my grandma gave to me when I got married.  Back in 2004 my sister offered to help me re-cover the seat cushions, and for some reason I thought it would be a good idea to do it in beige canvas.  I mean, why not just cover the chairs with a layer of old oatmeal?  It's approximately as appealing as beige canvas.
Several years and two kids later, you can see how the cushions held up.  In case you can't tell from this embarassing "before" photo, they were literally instead of just figuratively covered in old oatmeal.  I tried cleaning them with the brush attachment whenever I steam cleaned my carpets, but they were still gross.  And then one day I thought, "Why don't I just cover these in plastic?"
Here's what they looked like in the middle of the process.  It was like an archaeology dig, going back in time with each layer unearthed.
These chairs are several decades old.  There were lots of nail & staple holes.  Next time I want to change the seats, it will probably be time to have new wood pieces cut.
I used several layers of batting (these aren't the most comfy chairs) and some laminated cotton from Hancock Fabrics.  Here's the end result.
Patterned laminated fabric instead of beige canvas means better form (color!) and better function (cleanable!).

I realize this is the tip of the iceberg in terms of re-upholstering skills.  I have a bland-looking sofa (okay, fine, it's beige!) that is crying for a makeover.  However, that is a much more ambitious job.  Anyone ever done one yourself and have some words of advice?

Friday, January 4, 2013

Retro Friday: felt and sequins

Posting late today because I am having photo upload problems.  I think Google is trying to force me to use their Picasa album instead of just pulling my photos directly from my own computer.  Why are these internet companies getting so pushy?  You get what you pay for, I suppose.

On Fridays I will post something retro/vintage/nostalgic, because, as my kids put it, I "like old fashioned stuff."

A while back I was in an antique store in downtown San Antonio, and I saw this handmade Christmas wall hanging.  I thought it was charming, but it was in the $30 or $40 range, so it did not come home with me.
But, hooray!  A few weeks ago, I found something similar at a resale shop for the delightful price of one dollar.
It feels very 1970s to me, but I can't be sure of the time period.  It's clear that many hours of hand work went into this.  Please tell me in the comments if you made or had something like this in your house growing up.
Rosy-cheeked angels!  Sequins!  A dollar well spent.

Wednesday, January 2, 2013

Christmas banner

I made this over Thanksgiving weekend.  It's pretty simple:
1. Cut assorted quilting fabrics into rectangles with pinking shears (small prints and solids work best)
2. Draw letters and cut them out on contrasting fabric
3. Pin letters in place, and attach with sewing machine and/or hand stitch with embroidery floss
4. Use sewing machine to attach rectangles to ribbon (pin your center letter first and then work out toward either side)
5. Fold over each end of ribbon and sew a loop for hanging
I was imagining funky, and it turned out a little more cutesy, but my kids were impressed.  One saw me stitching on a letter and exclaimed, "You know how to sew with your hands?  I didn't know that!  Can I watch?"

Les Miserables: It was fantastic, but I'm going to complain anyway

Warning: Everything after the first paragraph is full of spoilers.
I've never seen Les Mis performed on stage, nor watched any of the previous movie versions, nor read the book.  My knowledge of the story comes solely from a cassette tape that my family used to own that had the major songs on it.  I saw the movie last week, and while I went into it knowing all the words to Master of the House, On My Own, and all the rest, I had only a vague idea of how the characters connected and the plot unfolded.
And here is where you might be waiting for me to say, "...and it was wonderful!  Such a sweeping epic!  I cried twenty-seven times!" etc.  But I like to pick nits, and there were a few little things that bothered me.  If you'd like to hear about them, read on.  If not, just skip the next couple paragraphs.
When I watch a musical, I am totally willing to suspend disbelief and accept the fact that people burst into song while mowing the lawn or whatever.  But when there has been so much talk about the measures taken to bring realism to this film, such as Hathaway's on-screen haircut and 25 pound weight loss, Hugh Jackman's scraggly beard and 30 pound weight loss, and the actors siging live rather than over-dubbing in post-production, it makes the sillier of musical theater conventions harder to accept.  Cosette and Marius fall madly in love after glimpsing each other across a street for five seconds?  Eponine takes a point-blank rifle shot to the chest, but still has the energy to gaze at her unrequited love and sing a duet with him before dying?  I had to keep reminding myself, "It's a musical; just go with it."
How was Jean Valjean able to support himself and Cosette once he rescued her and they went into hiding?  Had he saved up that much money from his factory that they could go nine years living in the cottage and keeping an apartment somewhere else?  They wore fancy clothes and rode around in carriages; it didn't feel like they were keeping a low profile or scaling back.
That scene in the Paris sewers was too much for me.  It was so unrelentingly vile.  Valjean ended up with a full-body mud mask of poop.  The visual was so over the top that I almost laughed out loud during his final life-or-death standoff with Javert.  They kept showing his face, and his eyes were blindingly white against the poop mask.  Why didn't they have him throw up a little?  I've changed blowout diapers that have made me retch, but Jean Valjean wades CHIN DEEP in raw sewage and never flinches.  I know he's a tough guy and has already been through a lot during his years in prison, but still.  There should have been some retching.
Now that I've got that off my chest, let me tell you what was so great about this wonderful, sweeping epic that made me cry twenty-seven times.  Ok, only two times, but really hard cries.  Not a few tears sliding quietly down the cheek, but the kind of cry where you try your best to keep people from hearing you choke on your sobs.
Anne Hathaway has been getting rave reviews for her portrayal of Fantine, and with good reason, because she is fantastic.  The whole time that she sings I Dreamed a Dream, the camera is focused tight on her face.  There's no dancing around, no flashbacks, just her face, sharp cheekbones, hacked-off hair, bloody tooth sockets, and all.  Her performance is so stunning and expressive that I nver got tired of looking at her.  There's a reason that that song was the main focus of the trailer: it's the highlight of the entire movie, even in a movie with lots of powerful scenes.  But the thing about that role is it's kind of a slam dunk.  Movie critics, Oscar voters, and the general public seem to love it when a beautiful woman uglies herself up and/or does ugly things as part of a role (See: Hillary Swank in Boys Don't Cry, Charlize Theron in Monster, and Halle Berry in Monster's Ball, Oscar-winning roles all three).  Any actress who does "gritty" is almost guaranteed a good review.  And besides gritty, the role of Fantine is meaty.  Hathaway gets to play a woman who suffers pain and heartbreak, fear, degradation, emotional and physical suffering, resentment, you name it.  And in the end, she sings to a hallucination of her angel-faced child before she submits to the sweet relief of death.  What actress wouldn't want to sink her teeth into that?  People might think Amanda Seyfried as Cosette is boring, but that's just because Cosette is boring.  She's kind and pretty and privileged and she marries the cute rich guy.  Snore.
The rest of the cast is great.  Jackman: great.  Crowe: great.  Helena Bonham Carter and Sascha Baron Cohen are loads of fun as the Thenardiers.  No surprise there, right?  Two talented and notoriously kooky actors playing the roles of the bawdy comic villains.  The only one that bugged me was Eponine.  She has a nice voice and I know she performed the role in London, but her perfect skin and dimples and teeny tiny waist made me feel like she belonged on Glee instead.
So again, in spite of my nitpicking, I still loved the film.  I can't imagine that anyone who hasn't seen the movie has actually read down this far, but if you haven't seen it, I recommend it.

Tuesday, January 1, 2013

Books read in 2012

I read twenty-one books in 2012, but I suppose if you throw out the baby names book and combine the three chapter books that I read with my kids, it's more like 18.  (And seven of those have a blue sky background on the cover; isn't that funny?)  My favorites were definitely Rules of Civility by Amor Towles and The Happiness Project by Gretchen Rubin. 
Seriously, read the happiness book while you are deciding on some New Year's resolutions, and then pick up Rules of Civility for the sheer joy of reading a well-written story.  You won't be sorry.

New year, new blog

I decided to make my family blog private a few months ago, and now I've decided to keep a separate blog of my personal projects and miscellaneous thoughts, hence the title "Craft & Opinion".  Although my kids made pretty convincing arguments for "Ideas & Fun" and "Morse Monster Blog".

If you decide to check in here from time to time, you can expect to see sewing projects, jewelry, some before & afters as I try to decorate my home, references to '80s television and other retro nostalgia, and of course, plenty of my opinions.
My goal is to post on Monday, Wednesday and Friday, but this week I'll kick off with one or two things each day.
Since we are observing the southern tradition of eating black eyed peas on New Year's Day, I thought I'd share our favorite recipe for the job.  I don't care much for black eyed peas, but toss them into a crock pot queso dip, and I can scoop them up with chips all day long.

Black Eyed Pea Dip
8 oz. Velveeta cheese, cubed
15.5 oz can black eyed peas, drained
4.5 oz can chopped green chilies
4 T. (1/2 stick) butter
4 chopped green onions

Put all ingredients in a slow cooker on low about 1 hour.  Serve with tortilla chips.
I'd like to note that the original recipe called for an entire stick of butter.  I feel that when you are eating a block of melted Velveeta, a half stick of added butter should suffice.  But if you're only eating it once a year, then go crazy and use all the butter you want.  Happy New Year!

PS: If you are dying to read more of the mischievous adventures and sassy quotations of my two little boys, let me know and I just might send you an invitation for the private family blog.