Thursday, December 08, 2011

That Time of Year

I could get into my regular rants about the names of holidays and what to wish people but I'm not feeling it today. Instead, I'll just show off my Yule tree! Happy Everything!

The tree!

The mantle!

Glitter house lights!

Tuesday, November 01, 2011

Halloween Cake Time

Hello, dear blog readers! It's time for another cake!

My fabulous friends from Etsy and I have been talking about this crazy device that cooks little balls of cake. You can insert a lollipop stick, decorate, and have a cake pop, similar to confections you can buy at bakeries and coffee shops.

The more we talked about this device, the more several of us needed to acquire one. We learned they carried them at Bed Bath and Beyond and Kohls. One of my friends went to BB&B and found them sold out so she had to order it. I went to the BB&B not far from my office and they were also sold out. They told me of another store that had twelve in stock according to their computer, but that one is impossible to get to in evening rush hour. The next day, I went to a different BB&B and they had three on the shelf! Yay! My first batch with my new cake pop maker was apple cider doughnut holes, a recipe included with the manual.

Since we had been talking so much about cake pops, my friend came across this site that features an awesome Monster Cake. I got my maker the Thursday before Halloween, and as soon as she posted about that cake, I knew I had to make it for a party Saturday.

The first step was easy. I picked a vanilla cake ball recipe from the manual and ended up with a little more than three dozen cake balls.

Little balls of vanilla cake

I didn't take any pictures of baking the cake, but it was not complex. When I was making the spice cake for my mother's birthday cake, I thought it would taste amazing with pumpkin. Pumpkin is the flavor of the season, so I used a box spice cake mix made with about 15 oz of pumpkin (no eggs or oil or anything, just mix and pumpkin). I was a little worried that my cake would not rise, and it did not. It cooked fine, but both layers ended up lumpy. since I was making a monster, it did not have to be perfect.

The next step is to make my cake ball eyeballs. I got some candy melts from the craft store, melted them in the microwave, and got to dipping. Candy melts come in a variety of colors. The store was out of orange, so I went with a light chocolate.

It's something like chocolate.

The trick to dipping cake balls is to dip the stick first, skewer the ball that has been chilled in the fridge or freezer, and then dunk and swirl it in the melty candy. You want to get a nice, thin, even coat but, I have to admit, after the first dozen, I was less stingy with my dip.

It looks good!

My cake pop maker came with a stand that holds a dozen pops. When you have more than three to work with, it makes it a slow process. Also, I've learned from previous work with these candy melts that once you melt them, they want to stay melted, so I had to keep the dipped pops in the freezer until it was time to decorate them.

Delicious chocolate-covered balls

Decorating the cake balls to look like eyes was easy. I put some white candy melts in a plastic bottle, melted them, and piped a circle on to one side of my coated cake pops. A chocolate chip for the pupil was the finishing touch. I used long and short lollipop sticks to give my monster a different look.

Eye see you

Now it's time to ice the cake. I used cream cheese icing because it pairs so well with a spice cake. I colored the icing with brown gel food coloring. The first layer was way too light.

Start with a yummy, lumpy cake

The purpose of the dirty icing layer is to glue the layers of cake together (with icing between the two) and to tame the crumbs on the outer surfaces of the cake. This step is more important when your icing is light colored and your cake is really crumbly.

Cover it with icing

I dyed the second layer of icing much darker, but not the same color as the chocolate on my pops. I was running out of dye, so I just left it as is.

Nice and smooth

Smooth icing does not look like a hairy monster, so I took a shell tool and gave it some wispy texture.

Quick strokes make a furry cake

It looks fuzzy to me

The lumpy cake gave me a nice surface for the face of my monster. I used decorator icing with a piping tip to pipe on a black mouth line and some white teeth.


I baked the cake and cake balls on Thursday and decorated the mess on Friday, but I could not place the eyestalks until I was at the party, because they would not fit in my cake carrier.

When it was time to bring out the cake, I put seven of my three dozen eyestalks in and brought it out.

Ta-da! The Completed Monster Cake!

Doesn't it look delicious among all that yummy food? The remaining eyestalks made for a yummy treat as well.

Good stuff to eat

The death of a Monster Cake.

The pumpkin spice combination was just as tasty as I thought it would be.

I really love my cake pop maker. The appliance was very easy to use and the cake balls are so fun to decorate. I think the next monster cake should be purple. I hope everyone had a Happy Halloween!

Tuesday, October 25, 2011

You Taught Me

You Taught Me that true friends are people who love you for who and what you are.
You Taught Me that true friends wouldn't try to hurt me, so if they say something that I take as hurtful, they probably didn't mean it.
You Taught Me to trust the people in my life, to trust that they have only the best intentions toward me.
You Taught Me the value of communication, to talk to my friends when they say something that hurts me, or when I feel they don't have the best intentions toward me.
You Taught Me to think about how I react to my friends and to talk to them when I feel hurt. Because You Taught Me that my true friends don't try to hurt me.
You Taught Me to pay attention to the lives of others.
You Taught Me that every day is not peaches and roses and maybe the distance my friend is showing is because of a bad day, not because of me.
You Taught Me how to be open and understanding. Because You Taught Me to talk to the people who matter.
You Taught Me to move on.
You Taught Me to be thankful for what I learned from the time we had together and to let you go your own way when that time has passed.

By your anger, by your mistrust, by your assumptions.
By the way you did not do these things, You Taught Me.

Friday, September 30, 2011

This One is For Mom

My mother is a wonderful person. I don't really spend a lot of time thinking about her mothering skills, or that I want to be a mother just like her if I ever am a mother. All I can say is, whatever she did, she did something right. I am proud that she is my mother, and I am blessed that she is my friend.

Her birthday was Tuesday. It was also her sister's birthday: they were born ten years apart. My aunt likes to joke, "you mom always used to say 'my birthdays were great until I turned ten!'" She loves her sister though, so I bet she thinks about it differently now. But, as you well know, dear blog readers, birthday means cake time!

Since my mother is the eldest, I told her to choose the cake. She first insisted that I use a box and not make anything too complicated, after hearing the story of Jack's red velvet disaster. She said she wanted something that goes good with cream cheese icing. I told her red velvet (I can get a box of that) or I have a box of carrot cake and spice cake on hand. Spice cake was the winner! It so happens that I have a fondant recipe that involves cream cheese, so I was all set.

I always talk about my friend Seddy's awesome blog. Ever since she posted about this fabulous cake, I have wanted to try it! The first thing I needed was jimmy sprinkles (Note: I actually only learned that they were called 'jimmies' within the last year or so, they were always just 'sprinkles' to me, and they will henceforth be called 'sprinkles' here. But for those who can't accept that there are different kinds of sprinkles, now you know I'm talking about jimmies.). As Seddy wrote in her blog, I also could only find a great mixed tub and no individual colors. So, I bought that tub and spent an evening sorting until I went crazy and my neck hurt from bending over. Then a few days later, I found a few colors separated in a sectioned jar. As it turned out, the pre-sorted sprinkles were mostly short and not very uniform in size. The ones from the tub were longer and fairly consistent, so I ended up using those anyway.

Next, I needed a design. Some friends suggested some vintage embroidery patterns and I crawled Etsy, finding some very beautiful and complex designs. I ended up going with a design similar to this doily because I decided simple was better!

Now the fun begins!

Ready to make fondant

The first thing I had to do was make the fondant. My recipe is crazy easy, but I can't share it because it was an old family recipe of Monty's mother-in-law and she swore me to secrecy. I will tell you that it involves cream cheese, confectioner's sugar, and vanilla. I usually put peppermint in there too, but not for this cake. This is the first time I'm going to actually put this fondant on a cake too.

Mixing the fondant

This fondant takes a lot of kneading and slowly adding in the sugar. It's best to work it a bit at a time and then combine each portion together. I wore gloves because it's very sticky and almost impossible to mix with a spoon. I could try a food processor, but I don't have one!

Finished ball of fondant

I knew this was going to be far more fondant than I need for the embroidery topper. I'm still not sure what I'm going to do with the rest of it, actually. It does freeze well and when Monty's m-i-l first made it for me, she just rolled it into little balls and ate it like candy. That's pretty much what I did with it whenever I was previously inclined to make it as well. The ball of fondant went into the fridge until I was ready to make the topper.

My embroidery pattern

When I was ready to make the topper, I took the fondant out of the fridge and let it warm up so it was easier to work with. While it was doing that, I made a cutting guide so I could cut out a disk of fondant the right size for my cake. It was the same way I measured the fondant for the Stargate Cake too. I then drew the embroidery pattern with colored pencils, a color for each color of sprinkles, directly onto my cutting guide. When that was done, the fondant was warm enough to roll out and cut.

Placing sprinkles

There really is no way to describe putting the sprinkles in place. It was just a matter of picking a place to start and gently pressing them into the fondant. I put the thing on my lap so I could work while sitting with something on the TV. I learned my lesson from the Stargate Cake. Do not carve fondant on your feet, it's tiring!

Completed fondant topper

This is the finished topper! It took less than three hours. There are some white sprinkles there, and they show up against the cream of the fondant well enough (I wasn't expecting them to stand out). I used little pearls as the center of each flower. With the topper done, it went into a bag and into the fridge with the rest of the fondant. I barely used any of it.


The cake was made last night so it's as fresh as possible for the party on Saturday. There's nothing much to say about this, as I was using a box mix and didn't do anything fancy to it.

Two lovely cakes

They came out beautiful. I lined the pans in parchment paper to make sure the cakes released from the pans (we were not going to have a repeat of the red velvet disaster!) and they both came out fine. I was a little worried because they look very dense. After they cooled and I cut off the rounded tops with my leveler, I tried some of the cut pieces and it was moist and delicious. I can't remember the last time I had a spice cake, I don't remember it being that yummy! I think it's just perfect for this autumnal birthday.

Layers and icing

Since my mother said simple was fine, the cream cheese icing also came pre-made. Since most of the cake will be covered with the topper, I slathered most of the icing on the sides.

I didn't get a picture of this next step. I wanted the icing to be a slightly different color than the fondant because I wanted to try something with the fondant borders. Do you remember the spray color that failed on the Stargate Cake? I decided to try Wilton's brand of spray color and picked up a can of blue. I wanted it to be very light, like just barely blue. I ended up with far more blue than I wanted, more of a robin's egg color, but I was happy with it. It came out light at first, but then I got a little heavy-handed with it. And now I can report that there was not a single problem with Wilton's spray. Now if only they would make it in silver!

Cutting the border

I made a mistake here. I should have pulled the fondant from the fridge and let it warm up so I could work with it, but I forgot. It's very crumbly when it's cold and it was getting late and I needed to be done with the cake. I kneaded a few balls of it so I could work with it, but it wasn't the best. It didn't cut cleanly, and I had a hard time shaping it. Even so, I was going to make it work, and work it did. I rolled a snake along the bottom of the cake and a kind of wavy, scalloped edge for the top.

Topper in place

Because I didn't let the fondant warm up, I had a hard time getting the topper off the parchment paper. It stretched a little bit, but I just pressed the edges into the scalloped fondant boarder and it worked fine. Moving the topper to the cake was a delicate operation! You can see a little of the blue in this shot. My coworker said it looked like the ocean. I love that! Perfect!

Finished Embroidery Cake!

Tada! The finished Embroidery Cake! I pressed some of those little pearls that I used in the center of the flowers into the rolled fondant at the base for a finishing touch.

The party is tomorrow. I hope my mom (and her sister) loves her cake!

Tuesday, September 27, 2011

Monday, September 19, 2011

Heave To!

It be Fae's natal day!

Happy Birthday, me fair friend!

Avast! It Be Talk Like a Pirate Day!

Being a pirate is all fun and games till somebody loses an eye.

It stings like the blazes. It make you make faces, but you can't let your mates see you cry.

A dashing black patch will cover the hatch and make sure your socket stays dry.

Being a pirate is all fun and games till somebody loses an eye!

Friday, September 16, 2011

Apple I think I love you

And if you know me, you can take the full meaning of that statement. (For those of you who don't know, my house is full of Dell products.)

So, I've been having iPod Touch problems. I have an older 2nd gen (8 gig, and chock full of stuff) that I've had for about a year and a half. The battery was running down fast, and it wasn't charging fully even when plugged in over night. I did some searching and found an entry in some Apple troubleshooting thing that said to make sure I had the most current software. A software update has been available for some time, but I've been reluctant to update it because I was worried about losing data - specifically my game progress in all my apps. Jack updated his iPhone some time ago and said his apps were all perfectly saved, but still I was afraid to update.

With the battery problems, it made it hard to play my games because the thing ran down after 10 minutes with Pocket Frogs. In fact, both of my NimbleBit games crashed often after the most recent updates, entirely the fault of the updates (Tiny Tower didn't open at all and Pocket Frogs crashed if I wasn't connected to a WiFi network- which is pretty much any time I'm not at home). Some of my games like Angry Birds and Stupid Zombies haven't opened for months, and Zombie Farm crashed occasionally too. I had no choice but to update my software and hope that fixed everything.

I spent TWO HOURS last night making sure my iPod was backed up, all my apps were saved, all my purchases transferred to my computer, all my playlists noted. The thing said it would delete my media, but apps and data would not be affected. Then I left it to update overnight.

The first thing I noticed when I went back to it this morning was that the battery was fully charged! Before, it would have the tiniest sliver to go and still indicate it was charging even after being plugged in for hours. Some of my apps had moved around, and the thing re-installed apps I had deleted to free up some memory. The apps even stayed on the correct screens, for the most part. Except 2 were missing from my first screen and I wasn't sure what they were. Pocket Frogs and Zombie Farm had saved my progress. Angry Birds and Stupid Zombies worked again. And then I realized one of the apps that was missing from my first screen- Tiny Tower was no longer on my device!


I had already shut down the computer and needed to get to work, so I couldn't plug the thing back in and see if I could get the app from my computer. Then I started telling myself that it was ok to start from the beginning. It had taken me some three weeks to get fifty-three floors, I was more than halfway to the best elevator, and the app was free and I hadn't spent any money on in-app purchases either. It's just a game, it wouldn't be that bad. So, I re-installed the app from the App Store and left the WiFi connected area.

I got to work and took a minute to open my new Tiny Tower so I could get started rebuilding. It was there! It was all there! All my floors, all my bux, all my money! Somehow, the game saved! YAAAY!!!

Seriously, I have no idea how it would have happened. Updating the software deleted the app from my device. I didn't open it right away after reinstalling so it couldn't have pulled my game from some secret storage place on the network. Some program stuffed my save in to some far reaches of my iPod memory, or something, I really don't know. Apple win!

Yes, it's just a game, but I get entertainment from it, and spent a lot of time joyously taking Bitizens up my tall tower in the not super fast elevator. It's frustrating to lose something you put time (and sometimes money, though not in this case) into, even if that something is meaningless in the grand scheme of things.

I still don't know if the update fixed my battery issues. It's been draining somewhat fast, but I've been using it a lot today (and I still haven't put all my music back on it!). If nothing else, I'm encouraged that I won't have to start over in every game when the day comes that I can upgrade to one with more memory. Thank you, Apple!

Thursday, September 15, 2011

WAM Origins

It was brought to my attention on Facebook that I have never actually told the story of how WAM earned her alias. I've used that name for her on my blog since 2006 and, while I have said what it stands for, I've never said how she got it.

I've said it many times; there's something not right with WAM. It's in her brain, something that makes her perceive the world in her own way, a way that is vastly different and totally unlike the way the rest of us perceive the world. Coworkers have speculated that it must be some form of Autism, high-functioning to be sure but debilitating enough that the rest of us just aren't prepared to deal with her. Anything can set her off, especially if you don't agree with her or don't let her have the last word.

Some of the stories she tells are so fantastical that they cannot possibly be true. She used to date several professional wrestlers who regularly hold matches over her, she's personal friends with many politicians and celebrities - who she calls regularly for advice, opinions, or to demand they do something, and everyone in her family is either a doctor or a lawyer or both and this fact makes her an expert on whatever subject you could possibly bring up.

She walks with a fast, heavy gait. She will mow you over in a heartbeat if you cross her path. This is quite laughable as she's a tiny little mouse of a woman with huge, not-quite Coke bottle glasses who is in her 40's and lives in an apartment with her mother - whom she calls several times throughout the day. She gets very excited when she has a new (fabricated) story to tell, and nothing will deter her until she has told it all, short of yelling at her. (Ask me about the time she was 'engaged' sometime.) Yelling at her, by the way, will either earn you a complaint with HR or the bosses, or some days of silent treatment. Lately, silent treatment has been the more likely reward.

WAM and I work in the same group and have the same supervisor. Before he was a supervisor, he was just a coworker in our group as well. When we first moved to this building, a more rigid cube farm than our previous location, Adolf (that's the supervisor, if you're new to my blog aliases) sat in a cube at the front of an aisle, right near the busiest walkway on the floor and open to a lot of traffic. When WAM had one of her stories, rather than coming around to stand in his cubicle behind him, she would just pop her head over the cube wall. Adolf said it was exactly like those Whack-A-Mole games at carnivals, where you have a big mallet and you whack the moles when they pop up out of the holes. He, on more than one occasion, expressed a desire for such a mallet, because she would pop up so suddenly and energetically that, thus startled, the urge to whack her one was hard to contain. I have never sat in one of those cubes where her popping up, mole-like, was possible.

So, she was then aptly nicknamed WAM (for Whack A Mole), by the not-yet supervisor and adopted by the rest of us, justly earned.

Monday, September 05, 2011

Looking Back on a Year

Quite a bit happened for me last year. It was a mix of blessings and trials. Of all the things that happened to me during the first three quarters of 2010, today I'm only thinking about one of them. The truth is, I was miserable. I had been miserable for more than a year. I held on to a toxic relationship long after it had died. Once I had freed myself from that, the world opened up.

I met Jack at a party over the summer. We chatted through the evening and I gave him my e-mail address before heading home. He sent me an e-mail, to which I replied, mentioning that my mother and aunt were visiting that Friday. He sent me another e-mail that he was going to ask me to dinner on Friday, but since I was busy, would I be interested in another night. That e-mail got buried in my inbox, and poor Jack took my silence to be a total rejection.

A month later, I found that e-mail while cleaning up my inbox. I felt horrible! I sent him a message, apologized profusely, and said that I was very interested in going out to dinner, if he still wanted to go. He said no harm done, and we started planning. I was working at the Renaissance Festival on Saturday and Sunday, but I wasn't working Labor Day, so Sunday night became the perfect time for that dinner.

I rode to faire with my dad that day, so Jack picked me up and we drove to a little Indian restaurant in Annapolis. I still remember him standing by a tree when I walked out of the gate. The Indian place was my choice, I had been there before with my brother and it was close. We had a lovely dinner, and then he drove me to my parents' house where I was staying that night. I remember he quoted Romancing the Stone ("my little mule" to which I replied "Pepe!" We were talking about my car, because it was the same model he drove) and thanked me for getting the reference.

We saw each other several more times through September and following. We went to a street festival and a couple corn mazes. We spent time together for my birthday. One conversation in particular I remember was when he mentioned that his parents had a time share in Cancun for early December and had invited us to go. I remember that so well not just because I was being invited, but because it meant that he spoke of me to his parents. That was really big for me. And so our outings also include a week in Cancun.

Some days, we'll go out and do something, some days, we'll stay in and watch old TV shows all day. Every day is perfect, whether we go out or stay in.

We had gotten tickets to a Journey concert at a venue very near my home. The concert was supposed to be last Sunday, but Hurricane Irene messed everything up. The concert was postponed a week, putting it on the night of our one year first date anniversary. I was really upset upon learning this a couple days before the concert was originally scheduled. I had other ideas for what we might do with that particular evening (i.e. going back to that Indian restaurant after I got off at the faire), and getting to the concert on time would be impossible because of the shift I was supposed to work at faire. There was also the hurricane itself. I had decided to stay home with my cats because they were agitated from the earthquake. It was looking like I would not see Jack at all that weekend (because of the storm) and probably not even for our anniversary either (because he would go to the concert and I would be stuck working at faire). I think this may be why I spent every waking moment of that Friday crying. I'm not exaggerating that, I cried myself sick, though I honestly have no idea why.

As it was, the storm passed, leaving me out of power, so I hung with Jack that Sunday. Then, for what I think is the first time in eight years, I got someone to cover my shift at the faire so I could make the concert.

You're just going to have to take my word that is Journey up there.

I saw Jack before I worked at the faire on Saturday as well. Then we ended up at my place yesterday, went to the concert, and hung around here all day. The concert was great, even though that wasn't my initial idea of how to spend our anniversary. Everything worked out just fine.

Honestly, that's them!

Jack is a wonderful man. I'm so lucky to have him in my life. He's kind and patient, he's talented and creative. Neither of us knows what the future holds for us, and that's ok. I long stopped hoping I would have what I have now. Sometimes I find myself wondering how I got here at all. Then I realize that 'how' doesn't matter. I love that man. That is what matters.

Saturday, August 27, 2011

For Ichus

It had to have been 1997. I was working at an animal hospital and someone brought in a stray. I took him home with me and made him mine. His name was Houdini. He was a sweet orange cat who had a problem with men but loved my mom and me. He escaped the house and that was the last we saw of him. But this is not Houdini's story.

After we lost Houdini, we wanted another cat. My mother said she always wanted an orange cat. We had Zorro at the time. Zorro was a big gray tabby and he was all mine. Houdini did not stay with us long, and my brother wanted a cat too.

A friend of mine knew someone who had a barn and a litter of kittens was born in that barn on March 21st, my brother's birthday. That litter had two orange cats- my friend claimed one, and brought the other one to us.

He was more peaches and cream than orange, long-haired and fluffy with beautiful golden eyes. He was tiny as a kitten, he could fit in one hand. My brother named him Ichus, after a cartoon monster. We often called him Ick or Ichy.

Ichus with Noam the Gnome in 2009

I don't remember the year, but one day Ichus had a dreadful reaction to his routine vaccines. We finally got through to the doctor, who was able to save his life, but it was close.

My brother was married in 2004 and moved into a home of his own, and he took Ichus with him. They moved around a bit and settled at a lovely house a good two hours south of me.

In the past year, Ichus got very sick. They thought it was cancer and they really didn't have the money to treat him. So, they kept him as comfortable and happy as possible. As I understand it, he was doing very very badly on Wednesday. My brother dug a hole in the back and put the cat in it; he was going to shoot him in an act of mercy. Ichus kept climbing out, so my brother didn't do it. Ichus died in the house the next day.

He was a sweet cat and I think he had a good, long life. I'll miss you, Ichy.

Thursday, August 25, 2011


Well, look at that, I'm still talking earthquakes.

There was a 4.5 aftershock just after 0100 this morning. It's kind of funny how I noticed it.

I have six piercing in my ears. When I was brushing my teeth last night, I realize I had removed only five of my six earrings (????). Then I read to my kitties and went to sleep. Yep, completely forgot to take out the last earring.

I had rolled onto that side and woke up to the post poking me. I lay there thinking I should really get up and take the earring out and get back to sleep, but I couldn't summon any energy to do it. Then it got really quiet- all the crickets and night bugs outside stopped singing. Then there was a little rumble and a little shake. Then a pause, and then a little more rumble and a little more shake. Then it was done. (And yes, I then got up and removed the pokey earring.)

The cats huddled close, purring and mewing when I touched them as we tried to get back to sleep. The last time I looked at the clock it was more than an hour later. I'm very tired today!

Wednesday, August 24, 2011

Shake Rattle Rumble

It was almost 1400 yesterday when my desk started to shake. Then just as I thought it was finishing, it really started to shake and the windows were rattling. There was a low rumble. My supervisor said "what the-?" And I said "this is an earthquake." And he said "we should probably get away from the window?" And then it was done.

So we learned that the epicenter was in Mineral VA, spitting distance from the VA Renaissance Faire grounds and the North Anna Nuclear Power Station, about 80 miles from the office. It registered 5.8 on the Richter Scale. According to an expert at the US Geological Survey, it was the strongest VA quake since a 5.6 in 1897. This one was felt in parts of NC and as far north as VT.

At around 2000 last night, there was a 4.2 aftershock. It was nothing like the first quake.

This map of US fault lines and earthquake hazard zones came from the US Geological Survey.

Quakes are very uncommon in this area. I've experienced four over the past eight years and none that I can recall prior to that. VA has far more seismic activity than MD, and I've been working in VA for the past eight years, so that makes some sense. Nothing has really been big enough to rattle much through MD before that, I guess. Or I just didn't know what it was.

The very first quake I felt was a 4.5 in 2003. It wasn't that far from yesterday's epicenter, and it shook the office in McLean for a few seconds. The second was shortly after I bought my home. There was a very brief rattle in the wee hours of a Friday morning. I don't even know the magnitude or epicenter of that one, it was by far the mildest of the four I have felt. Hmm, a quick internet search tells me that one was a 3.6 and it was centered just north near Gaithersburg MD. It wasn't the mildest earthquake I've felt after all, but circumstances made the next one pretty bad. It was a magnitude 3 and it happened while Pat and I were riding a roller coaster at King's Dominion last October. We were a mere 3 miles from the epicenter of that quake. It was the worst roller coaster ride ever, and left us both with the mother of all migraines, though we didn't know until a few days later that it was a quake.

In every case but the third (because I was on a roller coaster), I knew it was an earthquake.

It was business as usual in the office following the quake, though no one was really focused on work. I heard a building was evacuated across the street from us, but we were not, though the entire call center left the building. We were jostled quite a bit, and I had a headache and my back and neck were sore. It was kind of like someone was shaking the building as if trying to get the last coins out of a piggy bank.

At home, I found two very worried kitties who clung to me through the night. One plastic bottle fell off a shelf in the bathroom and a shell fell off my altar in the bedroom. Otherwise, you really couldn't tell that anything had happened. The kitties jumped at every noise, or looked at me for a reaction, and I tried very hard not to jump with them (though I think I looked out the window when I heard a car go by far more often than normal). The aftershock was brief and the cats stayed close. They sat with me on the bed for story time and stayed with me through the night. Poor things looked quite forlorn when I left the house this morning.

A lot of people were joking about the whole thing in the hours that followed, because it was mild in comparison to other earthquakes but disrupted the region quite a bit anyway. The worst part of the whole mess, and why I find no humor in it, was the amount of people who were in town when the quake happened thinking "this is it, this is the attack we've been fearing would happen for almost 10 years." I think DC is perfectly in rights to be jumpy. While it turned out to be nothing more than a large (for the area) earthquake, a good deal of the nerve-rattling was from memories and fears.

We all have enough to be worried about.

Next up! Hurricane Irene! She might be headed our way!

Wednesday, August 17, 2011

Paint By Number

This is a vintage paint by number that one of my grandmothers painted from the porch of her beach house on the Chesapeake Bay.

Someone at my maternal grandmother's community has the same one outside her door, but I otherwise have never seen this kind of paint by number anywhere else. It's on a scroll!

Ah! Banana!

Do you remember this post where I proclaimed "Ah! Banana!" loudly, and for the office to hear, if people were in the office at the time?

My lovely friend Lori of myvintagewhimsy took a toothpick to her Ah! Bananas in my honor!

I love it!

Don't forget to start your day with a perfect Ah! Banana! of your own!

Thursday, August 11, 2011

I Said I'd Never Do It

But I had to! ArenaNet is having a little Guild Wars 2 contest, and I have to be there to enter. I don't plan to use it much. I don't really like it. It's very confusing. But I'm there anyway.

Come on over and say hello!

Thursday, August 04, 2011


"Did you say 'hello'?"

"No, I said 'allo' but that's close enough."

"Oh. You're a worm, aren't you?"

"Yeah, 's right!"

"You don't, by any chance, know the way through this labyrinth, do you?"

"Who, me? No, I'm just a worm."

I was talking with some Etsy friends yesterday about the Beholder I crocheted for Phoenix. Some said it looked like a creepy glove, some said it looked like a funky sea creature, and more than a few said it looked like something out of Labyrinth. Then the challenge was on, and The Worm was made!

This guy took nearly five hours. He is made with acrylic yarn, and stuffed with poly beads, scrap yarn, and poly fill. His scarf is recycled plastic felt and he has gold safety eyes. I think I need to embroider a line on his mouth so it's clearer that it is his mouth and add some blush to his cheeks. But otherwise, here he is!

Friday, July 29, 2011

Happy Birthday, Grandmom!

My grandmother turned 93 last Thursday. I was chided last year for driving all the way out there on a week day (which was her birthday last year too) so I was told to come on Saturday this time. My mother's sister was in town from Utah, and her brother and his wife were there, and my folks, and Jack joined us too. Since I knew I wouldn't see her on the actual day, I asked my mom if I could make a special cake.

When my Etsy friend Seddy posted this cake on her blog, I knew I had to make one for my grandmother. She used to collect butterflies. I remember spending visits at her home looking at all the butterflies - butterfly ceramics, plates, plaques on the walls, magnets on the fridge, paintings, bed sheets. Butterflies everywhere! When I see butterflies fluttering, I think of my grandmother and her vast butterfly collection. A lot of is has been given away when she moved from her house to the senior community apartment. I knew this cake would be perfect.

I had never worked with gum paste before, so I played with it a bit and made the sand castle that went on Jack's cake. I was pretty sure I could figure out how to make butterflies. Then Seddy posted this butterfly tutorial on her blog and I knew my grandmother's cake would be a reality! As you can see, it was more than a month ago that I started working on this.


Even before I saw Seddy's tutorial, my dad had helped me gather supplies: a butterfly cookie cutter, gel food coloring, paint brushes. So the first step was making butterflies, so they'd have plenty of time to dry and stiffen up (and so I could make several attempts if my gum paste skills proved inadequate).

Rolling Gum Paste

First, roll out the gum paste. I used my fondant roller and the smallest bands so each butterfly would have a uniform thickness.

Cookie Cutter

Next, cut the shape with a cookie cutter. I didn't actually do one at a time, this one was cut after I had gotten three or four out of the same clump. Just ball up the remains, roll it out, and cut again.

Painting Butterflies

Painting the butterflies was really fun! Seddy's cake sported thirty confectionery lepidopterans. I ended up with twelve and I was sure that would be plenty. I used four colors; teal, pink, purple, and golden yellow and painted them in layers. So, each butterfly got a base wash, then an accent of another color, and then a small detail with a third color.

Painted Butterflies

Seddy said her butterflies looked the best when they were all lined in black and I completely agree. Here are my painted butterflies!

Butterfly Boats

I set them gently into little boats made out of foil so they could dry with their wings slightly up. I think this really makes the in-flight effect. It wouldn't look nearly as neat if they were all flat on the cake.

They were all set aside to dry, then eventually put into a container until it was time to decorate the cake. The moisture from the icing can soften gum paste, which would make droopy butterflies! I didn't actually put them on until we got back from lunch and were ready for cake. The whole butterfly-making process took a good two or three hours, but I took my time with it, and found it a very relaxing and enjoyable task.

Lemon Cakes

Friday arrived and it was time to bake! My mother had heard of the terrible time I had making Jack's red velvet cake so she told me not to do anything fancy. If I used a box cake, no one would care. So, box cake it was! I don't think I've ever had a box lemon cake.

I wanted to do something special to the cake anyway, so I threw a handful of blueberries into the batter and added some frozen lime pulp. With all the heat we've been having, I figured a nice refreshing citrus cake would be delightful. I added some baking time to account for the blueberries and ended up with more of a dense pound cake. No big deal, pound cakes are yummy!


I prepared the layers. I used lemon curd in the middle, but lined it with icing to help hold it in. Lemon curd is a lot like the stuff you find in lemon meringue pie. We served it at the VA Renaissance festival on biscuits.

Iced Cake

As I was icing the cake, I realized that one can of lemon icing just wasn't enough. I threw the cake in the fridge and ran back out to the store. The can says it can do two 8 or 9 inch cakes. I don't believe it. I used about a can and 2/3.

The whole thing got thrown into the fridge for about an hour before I braved the heat driving to Jack's place. The cake sat in the fridge there too, so it wouldn't melt too much in the hot car the next day and it really would be cool and refreshing.

We came back from lunch. I gently nuked the remaining icing and started placing the butterflies. The icing on the cake was hard from being cold, you see, so I needed something slightly gooey to set the butterflies in. My aunt hovered as I worked. She was really amazed that they were edible and really impressed that I went with butterflies (because her mother collected them, of course!).

Butterflies on a Cake

The big light in my grandmother's kitchen burnt out just as I was ready to place the butterflies on the cake, so getting good pictures of the finished cake wasn't easy. My aunt took some also. Maybe her camera has a better flash than mine.

The Butterfly Cake

Ta-da! The completed Butterfly Cake! I'm glad I only had twelve butterflies, that was really plenty.


Doesn't that look delicious! Everyone said the taste of the cake was fantastic and the butterflies were beautiful. We did taste them too (poor butterflies!). Gum paste tastes like nothing, but sweet nothing, and the painted colors didn't really have any flavor.

There is a funny end to this cake. Jack and I took the rest with us. We met some of his friends in Rockville to see Captain America, and then I hung out as he and his buds played Godlike. We brought the cake so they could finish it. The icing liquefied in the hot car while we were in the theater! I'm pretty sure it was still tasty!