Sunday, November 17, 2013

Things not to do with Jello and Booze

I spend an unhealthy amount of time at the dollar store. If you're not a Los Angelino, you might not know what you're missing out on, but the 99 Cents Only store is truly amazing. The only trouble is that when things are a only a dollar, it's a lot easier to give in to temptation and buy something that you don't need at all. I've finally learned to resist the office supplies, but I still can't pass up the seasonal decor. I love seasonal decor.

So, in the weeks before Halloween I just tried by best not to buy anymore decorative Halloween crap. With my apartment already adorned with sparkly pumpkins and spooky kitsch, I actually did pretty well. 

But then I saw this brain mold. For a dollar. I knew what I had to do: A jello shot brain mold for the Halloween party. I patted myself on the back for my ingenuity and headed home with my $1 brain mold and my 3 for $1 raspberry jello.

I have made more jello shots in the past couple of months than I should probably admit. One part boiling water, one part ice cold vodka, let set over night. I felt pretty confident. But why stick to the plan when you can ad lib, right? Why stick to the plan when you have google?

I found this recipe online for a more authentic, pink opaque brain. Since I already had a can of fat-free evaporated milk in the house, I figured why not? So, using my 3 jello packets, 2 1/2 cups of boiling water, 2 1/2 cups of frozen vodka, and a slightly expired can of evaporated milk, I mixed, poured, and chilled. 

The next day I drove the jello, in its mold, out to Santa Monica for my friend's Halloween party. Yes, I realize that again to folks who don't live down here, going to a party in Santa Monica sounds very glamorous. But remember, I'm the girl who hangs out at the dollar store and I shows up to the party with a damn boozy jello brain. It wasn't glamorous. 

When I first turned the mold out, I was a little surprised to see that the milk had somehow sunken to the bottom, giving an odd layered look to the brain which was not at all what I was going for. It was also very flat, and unsettling wobbly. But, I decided to roll with it. At least maybe it would taste good?

But before anyone even had a chance to taste, the jello came to life. Slowly, over the course of about 3 minutes, the two hemispheres separated. The good teacher that I am, I documented this to build into my lecture about the hemispheric asymmetry and split-brain research. Can you identify the corpus callosum?
Then, we tasted it and it became quite obvious why the brain couldn't maintain its shape. It tasted like vodka, perhaps flavored vodka, but pretty much just vodka. Frankly, I don't know how the jello even set given how much it tasted like vodka. I don't know how I managed to screw up a jello shot, but I did. 

The only good news: drunk people on Halloween are willing to consume, messy flavored vodka goop.

Tuesday, October 29, 2013

Which Witch is Which?

I made the mistake of asking my lab-mates what sort of Halloween treat they wanted at our late October meeting. The only strong opinion was voice was a request for, and I quote, "Those ice cream cones that taste like cardboard, but full of cake."

Sounds tempting, I know. 

But, I asked, so I went on a quest for Halloween themed ice cream cone and cake combinations. The first to show up on google was Betty Crocker's Witchy Cake Balls. While they don't use the cardboard flavored ice cream cones, sugar cones are far more delicious, so I was okay with the trade off. 
I seriously considered using cake cones anyway, but when I put them on my withes, they turned the witches into pilgrims very quickly (you may keep this in mind for Thanksgiving). The real rub for me was that preparing for this task involved buying a cake mix, frosting, and 8 different kinds of candy. You do not know shame until you spend $20 at the grocery store and leave with only sugar.

The first steps to making these were just the same as any cake pop. Bake a cake. Crumble the cake when it cools. Mix the crumbles with frosting. Form whatever shape you need (this time, just round balls, but bigger than average, think "cutie" size). Refrigerate for a couple of hours. Easy.

But then, things got harder. For one, I had no green candy coating, and was not about to get dressed to go buy more sugar. Yes, I bake exclusively in jammies, that's what happens when you live alone. So, I just dyed what I already had. Green was harder to make than I anticipated, so I decided that they would be teal witches. In retrospect, I should have at this moment given up. But no, I had to try to coat these monstrous cake balls. Without a stick to dip with, and with the added heft of a larger-than-average pop, I just sort of ended up spooning the candy coating on. First I did one side of the ball, let that set, then did the other. Then I tried to wash the teal from my now stained hands.

If I were to do this again, the I would have the foresight to prepare all of the goodies for the witch faces before doing the coating, so that I could stick on the eyes, nose, and hair while the the coating is still wet. Of course, I didn't do that.  Instead waited for it all to dry, then I turned on the gas burner and held each ball up to the flame for a second to resoften the candy melts. Once it was soft enough, I smooshed on the face candy.

With green balls, adorned with 2 M&Ms and a piece of candy corn, I started the laborious process of cutting sour straws into strips for hair. My advice: save yourself the mess and hunt down the Twizzlers, they have got to sell them somewhere. Do not try to cut up candy straws. It isn't fun.

Finally, essentially giving up on hair, I dipped each ice cream cone in purple candy coating and shoved it on the "head" of the witch. I tried dipping in sprinkles first, but the sprinkles made it impossible to fuse the cone to the head. Again, this may be some that could have been solved with a little foresight. First, dip all of the cones in coating and sprinkles. Then, while the candy coating is wet on the balls themselves, attach the hat. Duh. Well, next time, right? 

In the end, they're pretty horrifically ugly. But, its Halloween, so I think that's okay. And really, Betty Crocker's were no masterpiece either, so I'm not feeling so badly. Plus, they actually a little bit like this guy, what what's creepier than that?

Thursday, October 24, 2013

Not Sharpie DIY Mugs

I am a firm believer in mugs. I have an owl mug from my sister I call upon when I need to be wise. I have a kitty-cat mug from my brother that I use when I'm ready for life as a cat lady. I have a CGU mug from graduation that I use when I need to work on school things, rather than prep lectures. I have a huge sheep mug from my grandmother that I use when, well, when no one is looking. So, when I was plum out of ideas for a DIY birthday gift for my friend Beth, a mug just seemed like the natural choice.
It all started with this image on an early, hectic, Tuesday morning. As my students grubbed for points I thought of Beth in her office, just trying to stay sane in a cubical. We both needed this mug. And, you know how Pinterest is always covered with images of decorative DIY mugs. The pin usually says something like, "Sharpie on a mug is dishwasher safe!" If you actually follow the link, more often than not you find that no, Sharpie on a mug is NOT dishwasher safe. But, it seems as though Paint Marker on a mug, cured in the oven for an hour, is dishwasher safe. Luckily, I actually read directions this time.
Armed with a set of plain white mugs and a black paint marker, I set to work replicating the Vodka mug.
Once that was done, though, it didn't seem right to give someone just one silly mug. On the other hand, I couldn't very well make 4 mugs that all say the same thing. After all, there is a possibility that not every boss would think the mug is as funny as I do. Instead, I set out on the internet, scouring Beth's social media for phrases that might be well suited for a mug.
Finally, I decided that the backs needed a little something fun on them. So, since I was already just drawing on mugs, I did that too. I spent about 30 minutes drawing that lab, I expect that you're pretty impressed. What might impress you less: the back says, "If I have to put on pants the answer is no."

Monday, October 7, 2013

Blue Desk Blues

I bought a desk to my room when I first moved to Claremont back in 2008. The guys at the thrift store told me that it wouldn't fit in my Toyota Echo. I told them it would. They made me sign a waver saying if they broke it, or my car trying to shove it in the Echo, it was my fault. I signed it gladly. They still didn't want to try. They told me to go get my boyfriend, or someone with a truck. But, I was new to Claremont, I had no one. So, they tried halfheartedly to make it fit, then gave up. I had no choice, I took matters into my own hands. I pushed the seat back, unrolled the windows, and darn it if I didn't make that desk fit. Yes, the legs were hanging out the window a bit. No, I couldn't use the bottom 2 gears on my shifter, so I drove home in first, third, and fifth. But I did it. 

When I moved to Orange, that desk almost went back to the thrift store it came from. In fact, it was the last thing on the truck when I realized that even if it was kind of ugly, my new apartment was huge and empty, so I shouldn't turn down free furniture. But in my new place with my pretty new bedroom set up, the discolored maple just didn't have the feel I was going for. You know where this is going. 

I thought about painting it white, or yellow, or even a soft green. But then I decided that I would regret it, and probably still hate it a little bit, unless I went big. So, I bought a quart of Peacock blue paint and set to work at 7 am. 

I sanded, cleaned, and painted, and painted, and painted. Then, I spilt the rest of the quart of blue paint on the carpet and cleaned, and cleaned, and cleaned. 

The final product, a lovely blue desk and a very faint blue stain on the rug. It's okay, I think it was worth it. Next up: the chair.


Monday, September 30, 2013

I’m not that kind of teacher (printable lesson plan pages)

While I bemoaned my far too busy semester and my complete lack of organization this term, a friend suggested that what I really need to keep organized with this many classes and commitments is a lesson plan book. I was hesitant to believe her. I don’t, after all, want a paper roster written in pencil to mark points on like my 4th grade teacher. I don’t want a notebook divided up into sections like “Math” and “Reading” and “Social Studies.” I'm not that kind of teacher. But, she insisted that I could find a good generic lesson plan book that would change my life.

So, I looked. I went to the Educational Emporium and looked at notebook after notebook emblazoned with apples and bees and rulers. Some had “Teacher Plan Book” printed across them in “chalkboard” font. It was exactly what I had feared. To be fair, I did find a few basic, grown-up looking lesson plan books that I could have written my own subjects into. The price tag: $15. Nope. Not for an experiment.
This, I decided while I stood among the shelves of ugly cliche lesson books, was something I could find a free printable for online. Those same helpful teachers who share their lesson plans on Pinterest are bound to have something they’re willing to share for this purpose. I set off around the web to find a lesson plan template that would work for me. Unfortunately, what I found was again a nightmare of apples and schoolhouses and Comic Sans. Page after page shared links for lesson planner pages that I probably would have even found obnoxious in grade school.
But, looking at what was available online it occurred to me that I’m savvy enough with a computer not to have to use these absurd templates. I can handle this, in less time than it would have taken me to drive the Educational Emporium, for that matter. In fact, after about an hour in Excel I had this document template in which to put my courses and obligations this semester. It's been a week and so far I am completely 100% sold on this technique of keeping organized. Suddenly, I feel like I can manage all of these classes all at once. Suddenly, I feel like a pretty put-together lady.

So, maybe you don't have 5 classrooms all on different schedules, maybe instead you have 7 different projects with different deadlines, or 6 different committes you sit on, or 4 different grants you're writing. Regardless of why you need a "lesson plan" book, if you're an academic, you probably do. 

I know, I know, you don't want to look like a goober carrying around a notebook with a globe and chalk on the front. You're far too respectable for that. I don't either. That's why I made these "stealth" lesson plan pages. No one needs to know but you and me that they're laid out for an elementary school teacher. Try printing out 2 weeks worth and watch your days get easier.

I found that I couldn't keep the pages in order, so sandwiched them between two pieces of leftover cardstock and stapled the hell out of them. But then the staples were catching on things so I covered them with that poor white duct tape I've been using for every project lately.
But then I didn't want to prep my next lecture, so I cut a piece of scrapbooking paper in half, slathered it with white glue, and pasted it to the front, folding down the extra to seal the edges. Just to be safe, one more piece of duct tape.
And now I have a lesson plan book that doesn't make me feel like I need to do playground duty.
Want to make your own secret lesson plan book? Download the pages here and write in your own subjects. 

Saturday, September 28, 2013

The Myth of Spray Paint

I don't know where or how I learned that spray paint was a good idea.

I had never used it for anything until I got to college and somehow got it in my head that I wanted to repaint all of the furniture in my room black and red. It never really gave me the desired result, my spray painted furniture always looked sort of patchy. Not to mention, spray painting takes many, many coats, and ends up costing an arm and a leg to do. There are far fewer color options, so you just sort of have to choose the least crappy hue on the shelf. Above all, it's messy. There is no way to contain the mess of spray paint once it gets started.

Unfortunately, I type this blog from sticky keyboard keys, now glossed with yellow. In fact, everything in my room, including the cat, is glossed with yellow. The window screen may never recover, and I just moved in. Spray paint is evil.

Of course, it can be handy when you're painting something really ornate with lots of little nooks and crannies that would be nearly impossible to paint evenly with a paint brush. I'm sure that there are uses for spray paint. But, right now, I'm starting to think that I should probably never allow myself to buy another can of this evil, over-hyped product again. And this is why...

Again, I've decided to repaint my furniture. So, I went to Home Depot and spent $30 (sort of a lot of money for someone as broke as I am right now) on spray paint. The color was, well, good enough. I bought a drop cloth at the dollar store (okay, fine, a shower curtain), and a spent and entire afternoon and evening putting one coat after another on my chest of drawers and nightstand. At the end of the spray paint, and my evening, things did not look good.

My furniture was splotchy. My house was covered in yellow paint. My new computer was covered in yellow paint. I was pissed.

So, the next day (now exactly 24 hours away from my housewarming party, yikes) I went back to the Home Depot and spent $20 more on a quart of latex paint and an edging roller. Two coats of this paint covered the mess that was the spray paint debacle, and I'm thrilled with the outcome. I decided, then and there, that I would never buy another can of spray paint again! I'm a convert. Only cans of paint for me, now!
But then, I realized, the hardware didn't match anymore. I wanted it to be white. Unfortunately, there is only one good way to paint something like a drawer pull. So, I begrudgingly I got out the white spray paint and gave them a couple coats. Damn. So really, the terrorists have won.

You may recall the bedroom used to look like this:
well, now it looks like this:
I know, the bedspread changed color too, which sort of throws off the whole thing, but it's still too stinking hot in my apartment for down. I was dying. Ignore the bed, focus on the furniture. I apologize for how lame this post is. I've gotta start taking better "before" photos. 

Thursday, September 26, 2013

I Love Lamp: Booze-Jug Edition (with tutorial)

This story begins in 2008 when I was first moving to Claremont. My sister and I made a trip to Ikea to furnish my new "grad student" bedroom and I fell in love with this lamp.
I know, now, you've seen it in the home of every woman within a 50 mile radius of an Ikea, but back in summer of 2008, this lamp was game changer. I put off buying it because "I didn't have space," but by December, when I moved again and was still lusting after it, I brought it home. Because it doesn't give off a whole lot of light, and it takes sort of a long time to "warm up" the florescent bulb, it has been out in the living room acting as a end table lamp for years. But now, with enough space for a nightstand on either side of the bed, it wound up on the chest of drawers standing in as a nightstand in my room.

During my hours of surfing the web for home decor tips, I read that if your nightstands don't match, it's best to get matching lamps, or lamps with the same "feel" for both tables. Fair enough. Granted, both of my lamps came from Ikea, but the other side was sporting this miserable, poorly balanced black number that I have tipped over every single night for the last 5 years. I hate this lamp.
Back at Ikea working on another project, I started scoping out a lamp with a similar "feel" to the white flowery globe and I stumbled across this lovely creature. This $50 lovely creature. Blast. But, I won't be deterred by a high price tag. Nope, not this girl. I said those words that get me in trouble time and time again: I could make that.
I contrived a plan that I was certain would get me close. Buy a jug of wine, turn it into a lamp. How hard could it be?

Now I knew from many years of drinking cheap wine in college that gallon jugs come in 2 shapes, and I had my heart set on the shapely orb of the Livingston bottle. But of course, after 5 stores including Vons, BevMo and TotalWine, I admitted defeat and just bought a bottle of Carlo Rossi for $10.
Next, I had to try to hoist a gallon of cheap wine onto unsuspecting friends. This proved to be challenging. After a week I poured out the wine (you'll see where this ends up, soon...), removed the label, and set to work.

Although there are, again, lots of tutorials online, I didn't immediately find a great one, so I'm doing my own. Do know that these directions will work for just about any booze-jug or booze-bottle if you aren't digging my Carlo Rossi lamp. In fact, it would work for jugs/bottles that don't hold booze, too, but where is the fun in that?

For this project you will need:

- a jug or bottle (empty and clean)
- a 3/8" drill
- a tungsten carbide bit set for your drill
- a "make a lamp kit" ($12)
- art hanging putty (depending)
- protective eyewear (big sunglasses will do in a pinch)

Step 1: Drill a hole in your jug
You may have read other blogs about how to make a lamp out of a wine bottle and noticed that they all use the "lamp making kit" from the hardware store, which offers the option of running the lamp cord out the side of the hardware, like this:
That's lame. You know that's lame. A lamp should have a cord running through it and out the bottom. Yes, this means that there has to be a hole in the bottom of the bottle. Why were all of these ladies wimping out? I mean, really, how hard is it to drill hole in glass?

Okay, actually pretty hard. First, I tried using a diamond bit for my Demel tool that I use for etching to no avail. Then, I tried a regular ordinary drill bit in my drill. Also, not successful. So, I broke down and bought this set of special glass and ceramic drill bits ($8 at harbor freight). Probably the best part of this experience was the the lady at the checkout counter said, "There's going to be a restocking fee when you return these," as she put them in my bag. Thanks lady, have a little faith.

Anywho, back at home I loaded up my drill with the bit.
A tutorial I found online suggested using putty to make a little "moat wall" around the spot you will be drilling.
Apparently, drilling through glass requires water, and the moat will allow you to keep the hole wet without leaving the thing under running water.
I found this step to be entirely unnecessary for this project. Once I had the right drill bit, drilling this hole took all of about 20 seconds, and I don't mind running the water for that long.

So now you've got a jug with a little hole in the bottom. It's all very simple from here.
Step 2: Lace the cord (in your lamp kit) through the hole and fish it out the mouth of the jug. 
Step 3: Assemble the base parts
Okay, lamp wiring instructions that come with the lamp kit are jargon-y. Jargon, they tell me at school, doesn't do much good for communicating to lay people. So, as a lay person in the world of lamp wiring, I will attempt a jargon free tutorial from here on out. Don't like it, go find a different tutorial.

Select the "adaptor" (white plastic plug) that best fits into the mouth of your bottle. If you're using a wine jug, its going to be the big one.

Thread the little round metal tube into the white plastic plug so it's just about the in the center. Thread the little nut onto the "bottom" (part that will be inside the lamp) of the tube as well to hold it in place.
Lace the lamp wire through this hole. Place the adaptor into the mouth of the jug. If the adaptor doesn't fit snugly inside the mouth of the jug, wrap it with putty and wedge it in there as best you can. Remove any extra putty from the top. Secure the fancy metal cap over the top of all this to hide the ugly plug.
Again, lacing the lamp wire through the center hole, screw the bottom part of the lamp hardware onto the metal tube (it should be sticking up about 1/4 inch). There is a little screw on the side of this, tighten it until the "base" part you just attached can't spin or move much.
Step 4: Connect the wires
Separate the top 3 inches of the lamp wire and tie it in a fancy "underwriter's knot." I think I would have called it a "drunk bunny" knot, but that's just me. There are lots of instructions for how to tie this knot online, but I have confidence in your ability to figure it out.
Take the top part of the lamp assembly-- that is the part that lightbulb will obviously go into--- and lift the "insulated case" up from it to expose the screws at the bottom of it. There should be two little screws, on opposite sides of the bottom of this piece: one silver and one gold. Loosen (mostly unscrew) both of these.
Inspect the two sides of the cord. One should have a "rib" to it-- that is, little ridges in it. Stop giggling, it's not that funny. This is the "neutral" side of the cord. Bend the stripped part of the wire at the top down into a clockwise hook. Hook this over the silver screw. Tighten the screw down so the wire is trapped between the screw and the assembly.
Bend down the stripped part of the non-ribbed wire into a clockwise hook. Attach it to the gold screw in the same manner.

Step 5: Shove it all together
Pull the insulated casing back down over all of this to hide the screws and wires. Snap the part you just wired down onto the base piece until you hear it "snap" into place. It takes more force than you expect. Now, you should be able to put in a light bulb and test the lamp (cross your fingers).
I bought a lampshade that fits down under the bulb, so I didn't need a big "shade attachment," but if you have a old-school lampshade (read, lampshade not from Ikea) do take note that this will need to be attached earlier in the process.
Now you may remember all the way back to the beginning of this post when I admitted that this whole thing started so that I could match the "feel" of the white globe table lamp. So, my original intent was to either try that neat "paint the inside of the glass" technique that is so popular with mason jars right now, or test out the "frosted glass" spray paint products on the market. But then I put it on my nightstand. And now I'm sort of it in love with it just the way it is.
I am still considering trying to "frost" the bottle to make it match the other lamp better. I tried to visualize what it would look like if I did this by putting a bottle of icy vodka out of the freezer in front of it. Having a bottle of vodka on my nightstand made me very uncomfortable, so the jury is still out on the frosting. I might just make a second lamp.

Monday, September 23, 2013

Hanging Art (on the cheap)

My paternal grandmother was a mixed medium artist. So, when she passed away all of her kin got to rummage through a storage unit full of her life's collection. The canvases with oil paintings of distorted figures and "little clay monkeys" (as my dad described some of her ceramic work) aren't really my personal aesthetic, but I was very glad to go home with a few of her photographs that I've admired since I was a little girl. 

For the past year I've been storing this photo of an iris that I really love, but haven't been able to come up with a way to frame it that I like. Gigi framed and matted everything in simple white metal frames in order to best showcase her work. But, again, not really my style. 

Once I chose a place to hang it in my new place though, I decided that I need a big frame to make a statement, and dark, contrasting mat. The price for a big frame and a custom mat at Micheal's-- about $40, even with a coupon. Ugh. 

If you've been keeping up lately, you know where I went: Goodwill, of course (they should probably sponsor this blog). I found a truly atrocious wedding frame with a sale sticker and brought it up to the register, apologetically. The cashier looked at the price and then at me, "What a bargain for $3!" I agreed, and assured her that I with a little spray paint and different art, it would be great. "You don't need to do a thing to it!" she argued. "Just put in your wedding photo!"

Now, my biggest regret of this project is that I was in such a big hurry (housewarming party at T - 06 hours) while working on it, that I didn't snap a photo of the frame before the transformation. I've now wasted about 3 hours on the internet trying to find anything that could even come close to the caliber of ugly we're talking here, but imagine thinking that you would "just put in your wedding photo!" to a frame that is some combination of the worst parts about these two:
I assure you, that does not do it justice, but it's the best I can do. Luckily, with a coat of yellow spray paint it was well on its way to a new life. The frame was designed to rest on a table, so I tore of the cardboard "stand" and took a pair of needle nosed pliers to the hinge that held it on. 

To serve as a "mat" I pulled a scrap of navy blue poplin out of the fabric stash and cut it to be just a little bigger than the glass of the frame. Then, I put the photo on the fabric by running a line of acid free adhesive (from the scrapbooking supplies) around the outside of the back of the photograph, and sticking it to the center of the poplin.

Finally, I just dropped the fabric into the frame, catching that little extra edge of fabric in the cardboard when I put the frame back together.

The outcome is impossible to photograph without a reflection in this darn apartment (my apologies), but all in all, I'm pretty thrilled with it for $3.