slice of life

Here I am rushing to post before midnight once again. It’s not that I forgot so much as I have had a busy day.

I just got home from helping a friend to celebrate a big moment in her life. (Namely, her divorce.) She served blood orange sangrias, with slices of blood orange for a garnish. The slice above looked like stained glass to me.

One of the reasons I ran out of time to write today was that I was inspired to make my friend a gift. A number of years ago (where that number is almost 20) I made some gifts for friends writing out messages in morse code using beads. I had big plans to make many more such pieces of jewelry, and stockpiled various tube and oblong beads (needed for the dashes). I spent an inordinate amount of time agonizing about which color scheme to use, and digging through my supplies. And changing my mind several times. And then it turns out I’m out of practice with bending the wire to make the chain, so the whole process took far more time than I expected.

I also neglected to get a decent photo of the finished project. (Namely, a necklace spelling my friend’s name in morse code.) Here are the beads I used: rainbow fluorite tubes (for the dashes), and two sizes of roundish glass beads for the dots and the letter spacers. (See also the finished product in poor lighting, and on an appetizer plate at my friend’s house.)

Impeachment afterglow


Last night I went to one of hundreds of events that were held all across the US in support of the impeachment and removal from office of the current occupant of the White House. Most rallies were set for 5:30 p.m., as the one I attended. Being up quite far north, and it being almost at the solstice, the sun sets a little after 4:00 here. So by 5:30, it’s oh-so-dark. Preparing for this, I wanted my sign to be visible.

I stopped by a dollar store Monday night, and got myself a black poster board and a bunch of glow sticks. (The cashier commented “kids just love these.” “Right,” I thought. “For the kids.”)


Tuesday dawned dark and dreary and covered in ice. Schools were closed. Government offices closed. Meetings were cancelled. But I heard that the rally was still on.

Seeing as glow sticks only glow for so long, I didn’t want to get ahead of myself, and waited until after 4 to get cracking. I cracked open the packages, and cracked the sticks to start the glow.


Then I used packing tape to secure my glowstick letters. (This turned out to be a bit of a pain, just because I was trying to hurry. And packing tape will not be rushed. It will wrap itself back around the roll, and your fingers, and whatever else is around just to show its contempt for your hurry.) I’d planned out how I’d make the letters, and counted out how many glowsticks I’d need for each letter. I’d thought about “impeach and remove,” but the sign wasn’t really big enough.


I was quite pleased with the glowing results. My sign was bright and visible in the dark. And my heart was warmed by the enthusiastic turnout at the rally, in spite of the ongoing ice storm.


After the protest, I brought my sign back home to share its glow. And I made my Christmas wish. (Today I got at least part of my wish.)


(And know that my merriment is only a coping mechanism in these dark times. The next few months and the coming election next year are very uncertain. Meanwhile,  I am thankful for my right to protest, and don’t take it for granted.)

look whose stocking (again)

On Friday, I helped out in my son’s classroom holiday party. We were encouraged to share holiday traditions. I organized a craft making little felt stocking ornaments, and shared the story of the time my family made our own Christmas stockings. (It’s amazing to realize that I wrote the post about that 10 whole years ago.)

Go see me in a concert!


I missed posting yesterday, because I was getting ready for a concert. Actually, what I was doing was putting together my late submission for the The Eleventh Annual Blogger Christmahanukwanzaakah Online Holiday Concert, graciously hosted by Neil at Citizen of the Month. Go check out all the songs and photos! (And look for my stop-motion video doodling, accompanying a recording of “We wish you a Merry Christmas.” )


rainbow cupcakes

Over the last couple of years, and several cupcake productions, I came up with a method for making rainbow-topped cupcakes that is easy, fun, and very colorful. (Did I mention they have rainbows? We’re big fans of rainbows in this house.)

What you’ll need:

  • cupcakes (duh)
  • frosting, preferably in a light color (I make the standard butter cream frosting based on the recipe on a package of powdered sugar)
  • decorating sugar in a range of rainbow colors (also called sugar crystals or sugar sprinkles) I used bright pink, orange, yellow, light green, light blue and purple
  • (optional) other candy decorations
  • one or more small round dishes (soy sauce dishes are ideal, as they are the right size for cupcakes, and have a slight curvature)

What to do:
1. Pour out a small amount (about 1 teaspoon) of single color of sugar into the soy sauce dish.
2. With a finger, nudge the sugar over to one side of the dish, making a thick line. Don’t worry too much about shaping it.

3. Pour in your next color, and again nudge the sugar. The sugar will start to look like stripes.

4. Repeat with each of your next colors until either you have no more room, or until you have put in as many stripes as you like.

Repeat with multiple dishes if you want to make a production line.

5. Frost a cupcake, or a few cupcakes.

6. Invert the cupcake, and carefully lower onto the sugar stripes. Gently roll it around, pressing lightly, so that the whole top of the cupcake makes contact with the sugar.

7. Turn it back right-side up and admire the rainbow. (Here’s where I seem not to have taken a photo.)

If you want to add other candy sprinkles (like these stars), sprinkle a handful onto the top of the sugar stripes. (You’ll need to put the candy sprinkles again each time you dip a cupcake, but the rainbow stripes will last a few dips.)

This time I remembered to take a photo.

8. Frost another cupcake and dip it. With each dipping, the sugar stripes will shrink a bit. You can experiment with rolling the cupcake top around to make different patterns with the stripes. When the sugar gets low, push the stripes aside and start adding more stripes (like in steps 1 through 4.) Or, if you want to keep the stripes more even, you could dump out your sugar and start fresh in your dish. As for me, I enjoyed seeing the way the stripes shifted with each cupcake, and the patterns that emerged from adding additional stripes as the sugar in a dish ran low.

You can see here that the stripes vary, with the colors being more curvy in some parts, or more tightly spaced.

9. I also added white chocolate unicorns to the tops, after the sugaring. (I made these in advance with one of these unicorn candy molds. They were probably more trouble than they were worth, but I am a glutton for punishment. Unicorn-shaped sugary sweet punishment.) These needed a dab of frosting to stick to the cupcakes.


  • I don’t know how long it takes to do this project. It’s probably faster if you don’t stop to take pictures a gazillion times. I think it took a good hour, but it was fun.
  • I could imagine doing this as a project with kids, especially if you are flexible about how the stripes will turn out. (And also if you anticipate needing to clean up a lot of spilt sugar.)
  • You could also experiment with making other stripe-based patterns with the sugar, such as for holiday themes (eg. red, white and blue or whatnot) or just in some favorite colors
  • While I’m not super thrilled about using all this artificial color, it does strike me that the sugar-sprinkle topping probably has less food coloring than you’d use to make saturated color frosting, or that you might use to make, e.g., rainbow cake batter. You might also try using natural dye colored sugars, such as those from India Tree.

Other Tips:

  • Wait to frost the cupcakes until you have the sugar ready. You’ll need the frosting to be freshly spread to get the sugar to stick. (If you do frost the cupcakes earlier, or use pre-fosted ones, try giving the frosting a bid of spreading with a knife.)
  • If your sugar came in a container with a shaker top (with little holes), remove the shaker insert to pour. (Or, if you have the kind of container that has the shaker built in, you might want to make the holes bigger using a knife or kitchen scissors. Shaking it out will be tedious and you will feel like stabbing something anyhow. If you do not want to mess with the integrity of your shaker, or if the hole is still too small to really pour, shake your sugar into a separate bowl, and then pour into your soy sauce dish when you have a good amount. If you shake into the soy sauce dish directly, the sugar will fly everywhere, and the integrity of your stripes will be breached.)

  • Why do they do this?

    I was lucky not to have injured myself in this step. They also make sugar that comes in separate jars, which is easier to pour.

These were some that I made a couple of years ago. At the time, I was attempting tie-dye cupcakes. They evolved into rainbows.

calling cards

When I went to BlogHer in 2010, I got my act together to get some business cards printed. Unlike those cursed with foresight and preparedness, who may be easily enticed by services that can (for example) make business cards for you (with sufficient advance notice), I found myself needing alternate arrangements. My plan involved printing a regular 8 and a half by 11 sheet of card stock with 12 copies of my newly designed business card, and since I didn’t want the back to be plain, I had the image of my big doodle (currently on my banner) printed on the back. I carefully cut the cards apart with a paper cutter, giving me 12 cards per sheet, each with a different piece of the doodle on the back.



This year, upon deciding on a Wednesday that I would be leaving for BlogHer on a Thursday, I didn’t have a lot of time to make business cards. I did remember coming across some leftovers of the old cards, and I made it my mission to track them down on Thursday. Given that our house eats things, this was no small challenge. However, I thought to combine the task with getting some things off my to-do list, namely getting some things into the attic. The good news is that I got the cradle mattresses into the attic (roughly 3 weeks before the last person who used them turns 4), as well as several other large items that have been clogging the frightening pile of things that is somewhat ironically called “the guest room“.¹

I also found the target of my search. Mission accomplished!

Sort of.

I guess I gave away quite a few cards in 2010, the majority to people who probably thought I was insane, and who I never heard from again.² I found 2 loose cards, and a stack of 12 that were rubber-banded together.

Upon finding them, I realized that I wasn’t entirely sure that I wanted to give them away. You see, the 12 unique cards from a single sheet could be re-assembled like a puzzle.

Backs, re-assembled.

Since it was my last full set, how could I break it up? Realistically, I was not going to make more of these cards. Possibly ever.

In my rush to pack, I managed not to bring the two loose cards. However, I did think to cut a few blank business-card-sized rectangles from some plain index cards, and I packed a box of glittery crayons. For the many years before I ever had any sort of business card, I joked that I should just make some with crayons. The time had come for that joke to be realized.

Indeed, I did give out a few such hastily-scribbled cards on Friday. Then late Friday night, having gone back to the hotel room both tired and wired, I found myself unable to go to sleep. Instead, I sat down and did what any normal person would do: I got out my Japanese brush pen (which I keep in my backpack) and lettered some text on one side. Then I doodled a few of my smiley little sea creatures and micro-organisms on the back. I even colored a couple with crayons (and took this photo) before sleepiness kicked in.

It is totally normal to hand-draw business cards at 11:30 at night and color them with crayons. I don’t know what you are talking about.

You may also note that I have included my Twitter handle. Several people asked for it, so that is what I scribbled on the crayon-written cards. Having given out that info, I then felt that I should see what I’ve said on Twitter. I saw that it had been a…while. So I tweeted, which I’m pretty sure is one of the signs of the apocalypse. And since that one stray tweet, I have gotten caught up in a comparative tide of tweeting, which likely will come to an end as soon as my work finds me once more.³

¹ It is a hazardous space that has neither room, nor guests. (At least no guests have yet been uncovered under the piles.)
² I also gave some to my friends, who already knew I was insane.
³ I have this half-finished book review that followed me down on the train to New York, but I managed to ditch it somewhere in Penn Station. I fear it will track me down tomorrow. Those buggers are dogged.

When red + white = blue. (Experiments using red cabbage to dye eggs blue)

+ =

A couple of years ago, I learned that it was possible to dye eggs blue using red cabbage.¹ Typically, we have used a variety of artificial coloring options for our egg-dying needs, whether liquid food coloring or the store-bought Paas-type kits. Last year I was determined to try my hand at doing some natural dyes with vegetables. In the end, I gave up on my plans for using onion skins or artichokes. (The water from steaming artichokes is often an intense bright blue-green, but not from the particular ones I made that day). But I followed through with the cabbage.

I had forgotten how long it took to dye the eggs, but looking back at the photos, I see that it did indeed take a lot longer than the food coloring. So be warned: The eggs took a good couple of hours of soaking to get blue.

I started by cutting up some red cabbage and boiling it in some water.²

The resulting juice was quite purple, and I was doubtful that it would produce blue. It was, however, quite pretty. (6:18 p.m.)

We dunked the first egg and let it soak. 16 minutes later, a peek showed the egg looking somewhat lilac-colored. (6:34 p.m.)

At some point, I added a bit of vinegar to the cabbage juice, inspired by the instructions for dying eggs on the box of food coloring. The purple cabbage juice turned even redder, which made me even more doubtful of achieving blueness. So I poured some more cabbage juice into another glass to have one without vinegar, and dunked another egg to soak.

Here we are, almost an hour after first dunk. Getting to be the kids’ bedtime. Time to break out the chemicals. Here’s Phoebe, squeezing out some blue food coloring. (7:22 p.m.)

I don’t have a time for when the first egg (from the vinegar mixture) came out, but it did indeed come out blue eventually. Having read up a bit on red cabbage (as one is wont to do), I had learned that red cabbage juice changes color based on pH levels. Acid leads to redder colors, and adding something alkaline, and raising the pH, should make it bluer. I then tried adding baking soda to the cabbage juice with the vinegar. The change was instant and dramatic, turning from red to greenish blue.

Here we are, hours after the first dunk. (11:27 p.m.) The two glasses show “neutral” cabbage juice (left), and alkaline cabbage juice (right). In the background are the rest of the completed eggs, mostly dyed with food coloring. (I think the first cabbage dyed one is there in the photo, too. Second row, left, behind a yellow egg.)

Here are the chemically-dyed (top) and cabbagely-dyed (bottom) blue eggs arranged together. The lighter-colored leftmost cabbage-dyed egg is the one from the baking soda solution. (Blotchiness is due to condensation that happened from putting the previously-refrigerated eggs outside for the egg hunt.)

3 of one, a half half dozen of the other.

In the process, I realized why it is that it helps to add vinegar to dye eggs. Egg shells are composed primarily of calcium carbonate. Calcium carbonate is commonly used to neutralize acidity and raise the pH level: it is the main ingredient of antacids such as Tums, as well as agricultural lime. Acids can dissolve calcium carbonate. I’m guessing that adding vinegar starts to break down the egg shell, allowing the color to permeate and bond more quickly to the shell.

This would explain why the redder cabbage juice with added acidity led to a bluer shell (or got there faster) than the bluer-appearing cabbage juice with baking soda added.

Future study:
This year, I’m hoping to try the cabbage dye again, and also to experiment with beets, carrots, berries, and turmeric. I also may play around with acidity levels of the dye solutions again, as well as using brown eggs in addition to white. I wonder if pre-soaking an egg in vinegar would make it more permeable to dyes. (Did you know that you can dissolve the shell off an egg with vinegar? That’s another science experiment for us to do.)

Can you tell I’ve been wrapped up in academic writing? I need to get to bed.³

More resources on using natural food dyes for eggs can be found at various places around the web:
Natural Easter Egg Dyes on, Making natural Easter egg dye, Three ways to dye eggs, Natural Easter Egg Dyes

Here are all of the photos from above, plus a few more.

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¹ I think it was from NotSoSage, who sadly, has purged her blog archives. I’m pretty sure she also made red/purple eggs using red onion skins.
² That’s not entirely true, I started by buying a red cabbage. And there were steps leading up to that as well. I had to get up in the morning, for example. Sometimes that is the hardest step.
³ Seriously, I need to get to bed.

potato prints

This morning, I decided to do an art project with the kids. Specifically, we made potato prints. (I’ll let you guess what inspired me to do this particular project…) We’re at my in-laws’, and I didn’t want to risk getting paint on the furniture (or walls), so we worked out in the backyard. It was a beautiful day to be outside, but a bit windy for a project involving paper. Phoebe’s tendency to collect piles of rocks came in handy, providng us a ready supply of paperweights.

I can’t remember when I last made potato prints. I’m not sure I have done this as an adult, even. It was a lot of fun. (It would have been more fun if not for the wind.) And I did like the way the prints came out. I loved the way the thick paint made veiny patterns on the prints. (We used some washable Crayola paints that John picked up at the grocery store.)

See the slideshow, below, for more photos from this morning, and this morning’s results. I put even more photos up on Flickr.

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6 in a million giraffes

A few weeks ago, I got an email from a friend telling me about a cool online project: One Million Giraffes. Someone has started a website where he has the goal of collecting, as you might guess, one million giraffes. What you might not guess is that he is trying to do so by 2011, and that he wants all the giraffes to be created by participants without using a computer as part of the creative process. (For the full rules and more details, check out the rules page. There’s even a blog featuring favorite giraffes.)

Whereas my immediate response in learning of this project was to make some giraffes, it has taken me over a month to actually send mine in. But I’m happy to say that I uploaded my photo of 6 giraffes last night, and they now appear on the site. They are currently on page 2 of the site, but I expect they’ll be bumped down pretty fast. For the direct link, go here.

Here are the giraffes I cut out the same night I got the email–I took a piece of orange construction paper, folded it into 6, and cut the giraffes in a stack free-form. Then I taped them to the window.

These are not llamas.

Phoebe observed, very observantly, that my giraffes had no tails, and that giraffes have tails. She was right, and my giraffes looked more llama-like than giraffe-like. So, I retrieved them and retooled them to be tailed.

I also liked this picture of their shadows.