November 24, 2014

25 Needle Felted Fairies and 2 Fabergé egg piñatas

The girls and Becky started thinking about the combined birthday party in August. The girls wanted to do a fairy theme.

Thanks to LeeAnn Kim for many of these pictures.

Becky, Millie, and Violet watercolored each invitation individually on nice paper, then wrote out the invitations by hand. These were lovely, especially when taken as a group. Here are about half of them before they went out.

Felt Fairies
An idea was floated to make a little felt fairy for each guest child, as a party favor. The kids got really excited about this, since we have been perusing this book for a while:

Becky got some felting needles and blocks of foam to put roving on while poking it. None of us had done needle felting before so this was fun to do! She roughed out the process based on this needle felting book; each fairy consisted of head and chest made from a big bunch of organic wool I bought years ago to stuff dolls, needled into a ball,

one pipe cleaner for arms, and a foam cone from Michael's for a lower body.

The arms and cone body were wrapped in plain wool and needled in place. The decorations and clothing were needled on from a few packs of dyed roving Becky had bought some time ago for another project.

 Finally, little accessories were added like wands, staffs, acorn cap hats, and the like.

The girls did some of the felting.

Grandma helped out too.

Millie kept poking herself with the felting needle, and was getting frustrated, so she instead worked on clothing design. It does hurt when one inevitably sticks the big barbed needle into the hand positioning the work, and we did want to keep the amount of birthday girl blood on the party favors to a minimum!

She worked with me to design the hair and outfit for her fairy.

Check out how I continued the seams from the gores in the skirt up into princess seamlines in the bodice.

One problem was that we needed a lot of fairies, but the first few took several hours each to complete. We put in a few late nights of frantic needle felting, and with some improvement with practice and enough hours, all the basic fairies got done.

Decorating them was definitely everyone's favorite part.

The kids decided which of their friends were going to get which fairies, and nametags were applied.

These turned out awesome, and everyone was pleased.

Party Time
We held the party in our excellent recently renovated back yard.

Violet and I put on some homemade clothes for the occasion, and she added the little hair decoration my mom made for her.

After everyone who was going to come had arrived, it was time to do the scavenger hunt.

Fairy Hunt
The most enjoyed game we had at last year's party was a scavenger hunt, so to simplify the party we cut the other games and put more work into the scavenger hunt. We formed three groups of the kids we knew were coming, and figured out three non-overlapping hunts each with 6 or so stops on it. Becky did an amazing job visualizing places in the neighborhood (of course we were doing this late the night before) and composing rhyming clues and puzzles to direct each group to it's next stop. The idea was that as each fairy was found, the child whose name was on it would claim it and also read the clue for the next stop.

My mom typed up Becky's clues on the Corona 5TE, and each clue was curled around a felt fairy's arm. The groups of fairies were divided up into three bags.

Becky ran around the neighborhood planting the fairies with clues attached in their places just ahead of the kids at scavenger hunt time.

I went with the oldest kids' group.

Reading a clue.

Doing a puzzle for one of the clues.

I made two cakes, about the same size, both with strawberries layered on and whipped cream frosting.

Millie wanted a chocolate cake, which I made from my go-to non-butter choc. cake recipe, from Smitten Kitchen.

Violet wanted the vanilla chiffon cake which has become a standard at our house, and which I think is fantastic. The cake layers were made the weekend before the party and put in the freezer. On the day of the party they were trimmed, filled, and frosted.

I made up some paper flowers to top the cakes from this book, which did not turn out that well but looked fine on the cakes and made them look more elegant.

I've been trying to do gelatine stabilized whipped cream for frosting for years. Usually it has not turned out very well, with the most common failure mode being clumps of gelatine in the frosting and a lack of stabilization. The last few times I've done it though I have been homing in on a good result. This time it worked perfectly. Here are a few tips I've discovered that seem important to me:

  • mix the gelatine into a small amount of cold cream, and let it swell for a few minutes before starting to heat it
  • use confectioners sugar to sweeten. Not sure how important this is, but I think the little bit of corn starch in the powdered sugar helps the process
  • after heating is done and the gelatine is dissolved, I leave the pot to cool on the counter and immediately start whipping the remainder of the cream. By the time I am ready to add the gelatine mix, it is at about the right temperature; still a little warmer than room temp but not hot.

The tricky thing is what temp to have the gelatine mix at when adding it to the nearly whipped cream. Too cold and it makes clumps. Too hot and it will impede the final whipping of the cream.

Everyone enjoyed the cake,

and there was a little bit left over, so the choice of batch size was just right.

The idea was to make Faberge Egg style pinatas, which could also pose as potential fairy houses. Becky and the girls started with big balloons, layered on a few coats of paper mache, filled with candy and sealed up, then painted a base coat.

Then they painted and glued on decorations. Later, I added some hanging ribbons.

We put the pinatas on a line, which I operated, in order to handicap some kids to make the eggs last longer. Everyone got a few times at bat, then a bunch of lollipops.

November 18, 2014

Corona 5TE Typewriter

Becky and I were thinking about how to get the kids learning how to type. Of course we have our main computer, but it is often in use by adults. One of the main thing the kids have enjoyed doing on it so far has been to write text and print it out. The process of typing to printed output on the computer is not terribly direct, and there is the overhead of dealing with windows and desktop, etc. The idea of a typewriter came up: they can easily operate it themselves and they can have unfettered access. I was also moved by the idea of getting another functional antique machine into the house.

November 5, 2014

Cider 10: Ten years of Pedaling Malus into Cheer

We spent the weekend in Maine making cider for the tenth year running, with Ben Polito, his family, and the many other characters who have joined in the fun. Ben's blog post on this year is here.

November 4, 2014

At long last, a pair of high-waisted woolen trousers

I'm closing in on the last quarter of year 3 in the No Buying Clothes challenge, and my set of wearable clothing continues to diminish. I have been in dire need of trousers for almost two years, but recently my last two sets of frankenpants (made from sewn together pieces of about 5 pairs) have started to disintegrate beyond even my ability to wear them. They have numerous big rips and are about as thick as tissue paper in most places. I have to be very careful not to make sudden motions when I wear them. Luckily I have lost a little weight recently, which opened up some additional shirts from my old clothing archive, but did nothing to help with pants.

I have in fact been working on a pair of wool trousers for about two years now, and almost had them done last spring, just in time for the onset of hot weather. I couldn't imagine wearing spiffy wool pants around with my usual old t shirts, so I concluded I had to sew up a white dress shirt and suspenders to go with the pants. This of course delayed the project further, but now it is finally done. I just need to make about 5 more sets and my wardrobe will be in much better shape...

October 7, 2014

Building a CNC router with kids

Last summer, we prototyped a picket fence design, using traditional power and hand tools. Over the past year, we have done some renovation in the back yard, including having the landscapers take out the old fence and put in new fence posts. We left the fence itself as a family project to do over the course of another year or two.

The prospect of shaping the folded circular design from the prototype on the top of about 500 cedar fence pickets was enough to convince me we needed some automation to help. I must admit it didn't take a lot to convince me that what we really ought to do was build a CNC router. Of course the kids are not driving this project, but I have tried to involve them at every stage. I hope that it continues to provide them with an engaging way to explore software and machines.

September 24, 2014

Apple Saucing 2014

This year we made 30L of applesauce from 36kg of Macs over about 7 hours, using our own vintage Squeezo.

September 19, 2014

Two custom cedar storm doors

I needed two storm/screen doors for exterior entry doors at my house. Previously I had bought a custom spanish cedar door with matching storm unit from Vintage Doors, which was very nice but quite expensive. I got a quote from them for these two new storm doors for about $1600, which I felt was going to be painful to shell out. Pricing out two doors worth of 25mm spanish cedar at Anderson McQuaid indicated I would need maybe $300 worth of wood to do the project myself, and there are only a few joints to worry about, so I decided to just build them.

September 1, 2014

Glories of the Past: Vegetable theme dresses

Becky and I got fired up about learning how to quilt. Becky in fact finished a small baby quilt with the fabric she ordered, while I only succeeded in putting together a couple test blocks (so far!). My aim was to make some lovely hexagon quilts, and I ordered some vegetable themed quilting fabric from FatQuarterShop. This came with a panel of fabric with multiple prints on it, as if it were already a quilt. Cutting it up and sewing it back together again to make a quilt seemed silly, so in the spring of 2010 I decided to make it into some little dresses for Violet and Millie.

A Contoured Hand Rail

One of the last things I needed to do to close out a building permit I opened 6 years ago was to make a handrail for the back stairway from the kitchen down to the back door. There was only rail for a little bit of the stairs when we moved in, but the building inspector said I should have a rail. Of course I had to make this simple sounding project into a complex journey.

July 21, 2014

The Virtues of Wooden Shoes

The virtues of wood shoes are manifold
  • 100% renewable, biodegradable materials
  • Durable, long lasting, and can be renovated
  • Impact, pierce, and crush resistant
  • Heat, cold, and chemical resistant
  • Waterproof
  • Luxurious comfort, at least for standing on hard surfaces and light walking
  • Meet CE standards for safety shoes
  • Fashionable, even dare I say cute?