Monday, May 13, 2013

I'm Back! With Chocolate =) Cookies and Brownies that is!

It's been pretty busy (and lazy at times too) around here, and I've almost forgotten about my blog again now that April is over! I was making brownies the other day from my note on facebook, and decided - hey! I should put that on my blog to share with more people!

I do a lot of baking, and I have lots of photos! One recipe is my own creation, Izzerdoodles (for a later post), but these brownie and cookie recipes are my other go-to desserts when I want to make something quick and fun.

On Friday, I made brownie cups with peanutbutter chips mixed in one half, and dark chocolate chips mixed in the other half. Both ended up delicious, but the dark chocolate chips melted more into the brownies, so they're moister and so good!

Here are the recipes I use for brownies and chocolate chip cookies, modified from Nestle's recipes (I add extra flour sometimes).

Chewy Cocoa Brownies:

1 2/3 cups granulated sugar
3/4 cup (1 1/2 sticks) butter or margarine, melted (1 minute in microwave works well)
2 tablespoons water
2 large eggs
2 teaspoons vanilla extract (the real stuff is best!)
1 2/3 cups all-purpose flour (less flour for chewier gooier brownies)
3/4 cup cocoa powder (I use nestle, this recipe is on the package!)
1/2 teaspoon baking powder
1/4 teaspoon salt
(optional: 3/4 cup chopped nuts; powdered sugar to top)

Preheat oven to 350 degrees Fahrenheit, prepare pan. I like to line a 9"x13" pan with aluminum foil then spray it with Pam non-stick cooking spray.

Combine sugar, butter, and water in large bowl (or mixer, I use my Kitchenaid for this part). Stir/blend in eggs and vanilla extract. Combine flour, cocoa, baking powder and salt in a medium bowl (an actual bowl for this); stir/blend into sugar mixture bowl. Stir in nuts (if desired). Spread into prepared baking pan.

Bake for 18 to 25 minutes or until wooden toothpick inserted in center comes out slightly sticky (but not really sticky, that’s under baked and will be very gooey – tasty but not as satisfying). Cool completely in pan on wire rack. If in aluminum foil lined pan, lift out and place on cake tote/whatever you’re using to store or transport brownies. Sprinkle with powdered sugar, cut as desired.

Chocolate Chip Cookies:

2 1/2 cups all-purpose flour (adjust as needed according to how they bake - cookies that stay in lump have too much flour, cookies that spread like they're melting and touch, banking to the pan, have too little flour)
1 teaspoon baking soda
1 teaspoon salt
1 cup (2 sticks) butter or margarine, softened(from refrigerator, heat in microwave on power level 3 for about 30 seconds, sometimes longer, if you don't have time to wait for it to soften, or have a cold kitchen like I do until I get the oven going!)
3/4 cup granulated sugar
3/4 cup packed brown sugar(I sometimes add extra)
1 teaspoon vanilla extract(the real stuff is best!)
2 large eggs
1 cup (or more or less as you please, I like less, package recipe calls for 2 cups) chocolate chips - I use Nestle toll house semi-sweet chocolate morsels, or if there's a special, chunks, mini, or different kinds
(optional: 1 cup chopped nuts)

Preheat oven to 375 degrees Fahrenheit.

Combine flour, baking soda and salt in medium bowl. Beat butter, granulated sugar, brown sugar and vanilla extract in large mixer bowl (you really want a stand mixer for this, it’s really difficult to mix with a hand mixer or just by hand) until creamy – the butter and sugar should all be blended well. Add eggs, beating well after each addition. Gradually beat in flour mixture. Stir in morsels and nuts (if desired). Drop by rounded tablespoon onto ungreased baking sheets.

Bake for 9 to 11 minutes or until golden brown. Cool on baking sheets for 2 minutes, remove to wire racks to cool completely.

 And... the fun variations I make with the basic recipes:

Brownie Pizza: 

Preheat oven to 350 degrees Fahrenheit

Follow directions for making brownie batter.

Cut a circle of parchment or wax (parchment is better) paper the size of your pizza stone (or pizza pan, I haven’t tried it on one because I know the stone works and I have one).

Spread brownie batter onto paper-lined pizza stone, be careful to make it as even and smooth as you can – but it doesn’t have to be perfect, mine wasn’t!

Bake at 350 for 10 minutes, check, if not fully baked, add 2 minutes, check, 2 minutes, check, until done. I can’t remember how long mine took, I didn’t take notes that night like I often do with new creations.

To make chocolate topping, sprinkle chocolate chips on top right out of the oven (I used mini morsels, they melt faster!), let sit till soft, then spread around with frosting spatula.

Top however you like. Instead of the chocolate topping, you can spread a cream cheese frosting on top then put seasonal berries and fruit in a pretty arrangement on top. I plan to do something like that in the future, but when I made mine it was for my birthday and near Halloween, hence spider and web =)

Cookie Brownies:

Preheat oven to 350 degrees Fahrenheit

Prepare brownie batter and cookie dough as above.

Line a 9”x13” pan with aluminum foil – it takes two strips. Take your time, you want it in there securely but fold the edges over the sides so you can easily pull out when the yumminess is baked.

Spray with Pam non-stick cooking spray.

Spread brownie batter into pan, bake in oven for 15-20 minutes, till almost baked.

Roll or smash cookie dough on pan lid if you have one, or counter, to easily deposit on brownies.

Add cookie dough on top of half-baked brownies. Bake for 10 minutes, check for doneness (insert toothpick, if it’s really gooey, not done). Add 5 minutes if not done, twice if you have to. After total 30-40 minutes bake time, it should be done.

Cool on wire rack, remove from pan (easy with foil), peel off foil and place on serving dish until cool. Cut as you wish.

Brownie Cups: 

Preheat oven to 350 degrees Fahrenheit

Prepare brownie batter as above.

Spray a 24 count mini muffin pan with Pam non-stick cooking spray – make sure you get all the cups! You could use paper baking cups, but they would be harder to get the brownies out of, I think.

Scoop brownie batter into the cups – I used a tablespoon and mini spatula for consistency of size. You can also use a cookie scooper, but sometimes the batter gets too sticky for that.

Top with chocolate chips, peanut butter chips, anything else you can think of – or leave plain.

Bake for 10 minutes, check for doneness, add 2 minutes if not done, but 10 minutes should be enough.

Cool on wire rack, pop out of pan – a butter knife scraped along the edges of the cup works well and cool completely.

If topped with chips before baking, spread while melty to make a good coating. If not, top with frosting, sprinkles, whatever you like ^_^ And enjoy!

Let me know if you try any of these recipes and what you think, if you do!

Do you have any favorite recipes you go back to again and again? Please share =)

Tuesday, April 30, 2013

Amazing Zelazny - A to Z Blogging Challenge Over!

So, I didn't really complete the blogging challenge. I missed the last three letters, because I tried to take too much on and didn't get everything finished. My daughter's birthday and party was this weekend, and that comes before blogging. I thought I could get everything done, but I couldn't. Instead, I focused on what was more important to get done. I've been beating myself up a bit about this over the weekend, but now it's the last day of April, and I had a plan for Z, I should at least make the last post of the challenge! Enough self-pity.

Roger Zelazny was an amazing author of fantasy and science fiction novels. He gave us the Chronicles of Amber, a series of ten novels set in a world much like our own, but very different as well. Amber is considered his magnum opus, but it was not all he wrote. However, it is the only work of his I have read!

When I first started talking to my now husband online (yes, I'm an example of online romance success, through role playing games!), he was playing a character from an Amber role playing game. I was just an elf woman I had made up, generic fantasy, but he brought me into his story, and eventually I read the books, and love them as much as he does. 

There are ten books in the series, the first five feature the character Corwin, a Prince of Amber. He's a member of a royal family of powerful near-immortal people, who can write reality to their liking - or rather, Shadow. He is arrogant to a fault, but still a likeable character as he travels from our Earth to Amber, following his own agenda even when it conflicts with his brothers' or sisters'. 

The second half of the series, the last five books, feature Merlin (not Arthur's wizard), the son of Corwin, and his adventures. He's younger and a little less arrogant than his father, but truly his son in more than blood. His journeys take him to places different than his father's at points, showing another side to the story.

The books are wonderful, and leave you aching for more. But there's good news! There is a role playing game based on the series, as I mentioned before. And it's available in PDF form at Drive-Thru RPG: Amber Diceless Role Playing Game We've only played the game between the two of us, it's a hard game to get into if you haven't read the books - at least Corwin's five. It was one of the first systems my husband played in though, as a young teenager, and he has fond memories of it.

Zelazny truly had a great mind, to write such wondrous stories and tales. His books are worth looking into, if your reading list isn't too long already!

Now that April is over, I will no longer be posting six days a week, since that took a little too much out of me. Being new to blogging, it takes me quite a while to put together a post, so I'm going to spread them out a bit. I'm thinking maybe three a week: Sunday, Wednesday, Friday if I can. Not tomorrow Wednesday though, ha.

I do hope you enjoyed the A to Z Blogging Challenge, and reading the days I did make it! What was your favorite post of the month? And what were some of your favorite new blogs you found through the challenge? Share in the comments, and please come back again for my normal posts!

Thursday, April 25, 2013

Vivid Vera

Today is the day for V in the A to Z Blogging Challenge! I'm writing about one of my favorite role playing game characters, Vera Cerulean Gaze. She was a fifteen year old Solar Exalted sorceress in our Exalted game Footsteps of the Chosen. Vera was my third major Exalted character, and possibly the most fun to play. Her morals weren't always there - she wanted what she wanted, and often didn't care who got in her way. Usually my characters are out to help people and do good in the world, but not Vera!

Here is the biography from her character sheet:

The sorceress now known as Vera Cerulean Gaze grew up in the tomb city of Sijan, learning the trade of embalming and dressing the dead for burial. She became very good at her trade, the bodies that left her lab were always the best dressed and looked most alive. There was a trick to that, one she didn’t share with her uncle after a minor explosion… he said he wanted to renovate soon, so she just moved his schedule forward a little bit.

But she got tired of living most of her days underground, even though she was learning much, and when a Guild caravan offered her a job working on living people, she jumped at the chance, climbing on a wagon without looking back. Her uncle, the only family she knew, was happy to see her go, knowing that she wouldn’t be destroying his workshop with her new concoctions anymore.

Life in the Guild caravan was quite life-changing for Vera. She changed her name and learned a little humility, meeting people who might know her trade better than her. Might. She never got proof. One interesting individual she met started teaching her about true sorcery, in secret. She built on the knowledge from her homeland, journeying across the world to lands she had only dreamed of in her underground home.

Vera kept moving up in the Guild, a prodigy given her age, making friends and enemies alike. One she even still keeps in contact with, s special Guild factor she hopes can help her out of trouble someday.

Then she met and crossed the wrong Dynast. They were both at a party in Greyfalls, enjoying good food and wine, when she made a joke about his codpiece, wondering how much of it was hollow, and if his legs were that hairy or was he wearing fur leggings. It didn’t help that he had a dead bird on his head, a rainbow colored one. He screamed ANATHEMA! She ran, while he called the Wyld Hunt. You make a little joke about some puffed-up Dynast’s fashion and suddenly you’re a demon.

Funny thing when you have some occult knowledge and the Wyld Hunt is after you, a non-Anathema human. Sometimes you might just turn into what they’re hunting. That’s what happened to Vera. In running from the Hunter that was set on her, she Exalted, fending him off and discovering her manse, and some things her former life had left behind.

The most interesting and quite troublesome of her past possessions is the belt she calls the Caged Demonwolf. Vera calls it that because that’s what it says its name is. It talks, a lot. She usually can’t get it to shut up. But it has some interesting ideas, especially when it comes to what she should sacrifice for her sorcery.

That’s when they sent a Shikari force against her. She finished the final trial of sorcery just in time to cast a little of what she calls defensive magic. So it destroyed a big chunk of land, left a smoking crater… there wasn’t a village or any animals living there, right? Wait, there was? Well blame the Wyld Hunt for stirring up the hornet’s nest! Vera’s just a victim! It’s not her fault her name is reviled across the land now!

Vera's belt, the Caged Demonwolf, is inspired by the character/item of similar name in Adam Warren's comic Empowered (for mature readers). And Vera was inspired a bit by Lina Inverse from the anime Slayers, though the whole fashionista thing was my idea.

As Vera and her companions (she often viewed herself as the main character, they were just there to support her), the other Exalted traveling with her, traveled around Creation, they were hunted by the same Shikari, or Wyld Hunt - Dragonblooded Exalted who hunt down Solar Exalted. See, I took two flaws in character creation that made me a bit of a beacon for them to find. But it gave my character a lot of extra power!

For a few years now, we have been using the website Obsidian Portal to chronicle our games online, post character sheets, different information about the world, and more. After each game, my husband, our game master, writes an Adventure Log from the perspective of one of the non-player characters. Sometimes the log is in the form of a letter sent from one character to another, sometimes it's a third person view of what's happening with that character, or in the area around him or her. The featured character is sometimes one who is friendly to our adventurers, sometimes not. As players, we can make comments on the adventure log from the perspective of our own characters, or sometimes featuring other parts of the world or story, for fun and extra experience in the game. Those comments were a lot of fun with Vera.

For one adventure log in the Footsteps of the Chosen game, the main hunter after Vera, a stubborn Dragonblood man named Cathak Herrod, was the one 'writing' it. Here is how it went:

Journal of Cathak Harrod


4 Ascending Air, RY768

Vera’s trail has picked up again. Reports of her in Rubylak proved substantial. Our logistician, Red Rock Razmier, was right about the other man at the bar. Razmier said his name was Crow, but where he got that from I’ll never know. Why does the All-Seeing Eye have to use mortals to do their dirty work?

It doesn’t matter.

Vera’s an anathema. Crow is connected to her – either an anathema himself or brainwashed by her. He should be made to suffer and die, to cleanse his soul and make it ready for his next life. The possessed must not be allowed to live.

We’ll be pursuing Vera with a group of conscripts provided by Queen Arkasi. I don’t entirelly trust her. She seemed too willing to hand over soldiers for our cause. In 40 years of hunting, I have never seen a monarch hand over resources so readily to the Hunt. Not unless they had an ulterior motive. Perhaps something that Mimthee fellow said.

6 Ascending Air

Temperatures are falling. It’s in the 60s during the day and the 40s at night. We’re moving somewhat slower pace than I’d like, but faster than Pthura believed we’d make with a small army.

We ran across a River Dragon’s corpse floating downstream today. Looks like something ate its heart. Thing was pretty waterlogged and we estimate it will sink to the bottom within a day or so. Probably the anathema’s doing.

8 Ascending Air

Torn Rose has performed her auguries for us. She tells us this is not a tomb we’re going to. It’s an old wedding chapel to the heretic gods abandoned long ago (though the pathetic Linowan still worship the so-called Incarna). To one of the Maidens called Venus. Apparently, people used to marry there. Probably a Manse there. If not, then at least a Demesne.

Why the anathema are going here, I don’t know. Nor do I care. The people of Rubylak believe this is somehow connected to the rise in Vatal. Probably the anathema’s doing. We shall see. We begin the assault tomorrow.

9 Ascending Air

Torn Rose and Tepet Murada are dead. The anathema slew them. They will be avenged.

Pthura and I escaped, just barely. As I told him before, if you do not have the ability to destroy, to disintegrate, to disinform, then you must withdraw. If you do not have all these things against an anathema, then the anathema will overpower you. Now we know her strengths though – two other demons, like her, travel with her, as does a shapechanger, and a stargazer.

Pthura cornered a disease god as we escaped down the river. He called himself the Great and Powerful Oz, but he was nothing special. He told us where Vera’s going next. A Shadowland? She’s more insane than we believed. Perhaps this is the Crow’s doing. It matters not. We’ll be ready for them.

Next time, they won’t escape.

Current Day
9 Ascending Air

Remember, in Exalted, all non-Dragonblood Exalted are called Anathema by the Dragonbloods, and reviled and hunted down when known of. In this chapter of the game, our Exalted characters were trying to stop a disease of sorts that turned normal people into almost zombie-like cannibals, saving the region from the problem. But Cathak Herrod and the Wyld Hunt just wanted to kill Vera, they didn't care what good she and her friends might be doing.

We escaped from Cathak Herrod and his goonies, of course. This is what I wrote in response to the adventure log:

A message for Harrod

The sun dips low in the heavens as Cathak Harrod rides into Greyfalls. A shriek pierces the air and a cloud of sparkles whips past him, soaring into the heavens. Choking for but a moment on the tail of glittering dust, Harrod watches the demon Aperion Intimus, Hybrid Soul of Koss rise into the twilight sky.

The demon stops over the city, its shriek drawing all the little eyes in the Satrapy to its silver and black net body. It falls silent for a moment, then explodes, sending a shower of light and impish demon-parts to all corners of the city. Where the demon hovered, sparkling gold script now hangs in the early night sky and the small imps echo the words in their clear, young voice, in a language all who hear know instinctively.

“In the name of the Unconquered Sun does Vera Cerulean Gaze send greetings and salutations to the abysmally incompetent yet ever-persistent Wyld Hunt and most specifically the defeat-ridden Hunter Cathak Harrod, lately of Greyfalls,

“My condolences on your failure to capture or kill myself and my companions. You try and try and try, and yet it’s never enough, is it? I hope someday your organization will realize how fruitless its endeavors are.

“We ‘Anathema’ are here to stay, you cannot keep us quiet. Maybe if you started your recruits out with more chiffon, they would be more sure of themselves and not suck and fail so quickly. I mean, c’mon, chiffon is such a light and flowy fabric, it makes even the dourest man smile! Everyone knows that if your helmet matches your socks, your armor would not be so easy for a demon to cut through, though it did prove difficult for my snake-man friend.

“If Torn Rose’s mascara hadn’t smeared she may have survived and just gone running home with all her petals missing. Proper hair and make-up is a must in even the smallest battles!

“I’m sure, however, that you will send more misinformed terrestrials against us in the coming days. Some day, you won’t have enough badly dressed brainwashed souls to hunt me! I do hope those conscripts got home safe. They need to fire-proof their homes! Rubylak is just asking for a pyromaniac to come and set fire to all those wood buildings. Maybe Harrod will do the trick…

“I travel with four others, one like me but sneakier, another like me but corpse-y. They are both wary of my limitless power, something you have in common with them. Some bureaucracy sent a lavender scented tissue spy after me to try and curtail my doings, poor fool doesn’t know what he got into! Lastly, this snake-man sometimes follows us, but he doesn’t do much except chase tail. Sometimes he’s a very pretty woman, but really needs to invest in well-made clothes, not go traipsing about in the nude. Good luck finding that one-eyed snake in a crowd. I brainwashed none of them, each travels where they will of their own accord, with their own god-given power.

“Oh, and to set matters straight, it’s your fault I am what I am. One of your relatives was too embarrassed to stand up to my criticism and set the Hunt on me with no reason. Seems I became what they were hunting after all. Be careful what measures you take in hunting a monster.

“I’m sure we’ll meet again. Before we do, though, my Circle will have stopped the spread of the Vatal disease (well, that’s most of the party’s goal, Vessel, the corpse, seems to just want to study it, maybe take it home as a pet…). When that happens, go ahead and claim the glory of saving the people. You and I will know the true score, no matter what the masses believe.

“We will rise. You will fall.

“P.S. Too much sparkles? Never enough sparkles!

“P.S.S. Your topknot’s crooked, Harrod. Fix it.”

As the imps finish their story, the image of a powerful jungle tiger replaces the glittering script, and its roar echoes across the Satrapy, haunting the people’s sleep that night and the next. Then it starts again, the imps retelling the letter over and over until the townspeople catch them and stomp them out of existence. The sparkles, however, would stick around for weeks.

I may have rubbed his failure in his face a little bit, but it was warranted. And fun! There are many more tales of Vera and her companions, but those can be for another day. 

Do you have any favorite characters you love to read stories about? Maybe you've imagined new stories for them, even written some fan fiction. Share in the comments! 

With role playing games, players get to create their own characters and tell stories with the dungeon master and other players every session, and even online on a website like Obsidian Portal. Great creative exercising and lots of fun too, especially with good friends. Gamers are some of the best friends I've had, I have to say. 

Thank you for joining me again and come back Friday for something that starts with W! 

Wednesday, April 24, 2013

Unfinished Umbrage

Welcome to Day Twenty-one of the A to Z Blogging Challenge! This is the day for the letter U, and I'm talking about Unfinished Umbrage, or the annoyance with unfinished projects!

Every crafter has a pile of unfinished projects, and sometimes it's hard to not get overwhelmed with them! With our different moves, certain projects got packed away in boxes, almost forgotten. Every now and then, going through a box, I'll find a project and wish I had finished it. Sometimes I do finish it! But usually... not. 

I made a new years resolution in 2011 or 2012 to finish a project as fully as I can before getting really involved in another, but it's really difficult, especially when real life gets in the way, or a deadline pops up!

Here are a few of my unfinished projects...
 Water under the bridge... a bridge I'm making! It's actually more finished than this but I don't have more recent photo at hand. But there's still work to be done - once I'm done shaping the blocks to the right slope, it all has to get painted a grayish color.
 These dice bags ended up a bit too small in the neck to finish, so I made a new pattern and started work on black and white satin bags, they still aren't finished. I did successfully make dice bags with my new patterns with a third set of fabrics, but the black and white sets still aren't finished! Someday...
 This pillow case is almost finished, I never hemmed the open end, but my daughter loved it so much I haven't really gotten it away from her TO finish!
And one of my more notorious unfinished projects... sword plaques! The one with the shiny black sword and star came finished, which is what inspired me to make holders for our other replica weapons. The plain pine plaque is stained now, and I have plaques for the short sword and dagger also, with sketches and plans for what to do with them, and the idea of a shelf to hang the katana from. But, alas, unfinished. The swords are all in a well-padded box in a storage closet and the plaques and wood stain (what didn't get mistakenly tossed in the move) are in a storage bin in another closet. Just waiting, waiting to be finished. More wall space would help too, I'm already running out of it at our condo right now! When we buy a house, maybe I'll have them done for the new house =)

These are just the tip of the iceberg, but I have gotten better about finishing NEW projects since my resolution. It helps if the item is for a friend, or one of my daughter's dresses. Then I HAVE to get it done!

Do you have a problem with unfinished projects? Are there any projects you really want to finish sitting forgotten in a box, on a shelf, in a closet? Maybe you should try to find some time to finish them, and tell me about it in the comments! I think the bridge should be the first one I finish, then maybe I can take photos and share some of my husband's war gaming terrain.

Thanks for joining me again on this blogging journey! Come back tomorrow for something that starts with V! Only five days left!

Tuesday, April 23, 2013

Tiny Tinkerbell

Today is the day for the letter T! My daughter wants a Tinkerbell party this year, and I'm making her a dress for the party! And one for a friend - so two dresses! These aren't finished yet, missing hems and zippers. Soon...
 Going through my pattern stash, I found these two patterns - decided to follow the one on the right, Simplicity 2237, but getting ideas for a jagged edge skirt from the one on the left.

Here's my sketch (with paint! couldn't find markers and colored pencils didn't get the idea right) with the jagged edge skirt idea.

 When I got out the paper and fabric, I thought I would just cut the points as I felt, then realized no, that's not a good way to do that - measured, planned!
It helped I was watching Project Runway while I did this! Here you see the skirt folded in quarters, with a point on I cut to fit it. Then I used it for a template to draw four points to edge the skirt with.
 Attach to pattern!
And ready to cut the fabric with it! Downside... this actually made the skirts quite a bit longer. More on that later in the post.

 Here's a bit on the rest of the dress...
 The front of the halter bodices - the straps could be longer. This is a step of the sewing where I'm making them fully lined, it worked well!
 These are the backs of the bodices, before adding elastic in to make them stretchy.
 Skirts sewn together! I forgot to make the white underskirt longer, but since I have to shorten the whole skirt, I won't shorten the white as much as I shorten the green.
 Sewing on the dining table... I miss my basement! But it was fun sewing while my husband worked on computer stuff, we were in the same room talking!
 This is what the halter tops looked like, before sewing onto the skirt. Aren't they all cute and symmetrical?

 Almost finished dresses!
The back of one on the left, the front of one on the right.

 And here's my Tiny Tinkerbell, trying on her dress!
She was making funny faces in it, silly girl! I'm taking at least 3 or 4 inches off the green part of the skirt, it's a light summer dress, not a long one! I'm trying to decide on any embellishments or a ribbon belt... haven't decided yet.

Overall I would say the pattern has worked pretty well, except the halter straps would be nicer about 4 inches or more longer, for easier tying. Making the halter bodice took some re-reading of directions, but then I got it. I almost think the dresses don't need zippers, since they're for four year olds, but I will still put them in. Looking forward to trying to make another halter dress sometime! I have fun finding new things to learn on my daughter's dresses, costumes or not. I tackled darts on the Cinderella dress, pleats on another of her birthday dresses, now halter!

Now I just have to do the trimming, add in the zippers and hem those fun jagged edges somehow! Wish me luck, parties on Saturday and Sunday, and we're doing a lot on Friday out of the house...

And I still need to plan the party! Thinking about making paper fairy/bird houses for the girls to decorate with stickers and markers, maybe like this one I made tonight. What do you think?

Who is your favorite fairy from stories? Share in the comments! And please join me tomorrow for something that starts with U!

Special Sweets: A to Z Blogging Challenge Week Four!

Welcome, belatedly, to the fourth week of the A to Z Blogging Challenge! I started a post on Monday and didn't finish it, so I'll be getting two up today, again.

Today is the day for S, and I decided to feature sweets!
Kitty cupcakes!
 Dice cakes in different colors! These are fun - I have a grid pan with squares you can move around to make shapes, I just made cubes, frosted and added chocolate chips and candy for the dots!
 They're great on game night!

 A few fun birthday cakes...
 This is a cherry pie for a Canadian friend, in lieu of a birthday cake!
 And finally, my daughter's cake from last year:

Now I get to play with fairies for her cake this weekend!

Hope you enjoyed your Monday and this post! See you again soon for T!

Saturday, April 20, 2013

Radiant Rapunzel

 Last A to Z Challenge post of the week! Today's letter is R, for Radiant Rapunzel, the first character costume I made for my daughter.
 We're big fans of Tangled in my house, so when I asked my daughter what she wanted to be for Halloween, she picked Rapunzel. I might have encouraged the choice a little bit... and then she tried to change her mind after I bought the fabric and started planning the costume - no turning back then! (If you look above, this dress is one of the items in my logo banner!)

I stubbornly refused to buy the Disney brand Simplicity pattern for this costume, partly because I thought I could do better without it, and partly because I do not like single-style patterns, and there were no other dresses it showed as options. The Cinderella costume pattern from last year was different - it can be Snow White also. Instead, I used a formal girls dress pattern my mom had handed down to me. I think she got two copies of it by mistake one time. Free patterns can sometimes be best patterns, and Simplicity 4764 was a good fit!
Pretty flower girls, aren't they? I liked the skirt and sleeves, but the bodice needed work to be Rapunzel's.
This was my sketch, to get an idea I could draw and scribble on, not one of my daughter's books or her play table with Rapunzel on it! I decided to just make the bodice wider, and fold over and sew for the corset parts - it didn't need to be supportive or shaped around breasts, not for a two and a half year old!
 I did a lot of this work in a marathon sewing session, staying up all night watching The Lord of the Rings Extended Edition, finally - after probably five or more years of having those dvds and never watching them. (I watched all of our Star Wars dvds while sewing the Cinderella costume [original trilogy]) Remotes can make handy pattern weights!
My first attempt at widening the bodice for the corset inlay wasn't quite wide enough... the wider one was actually my third attempt! Good thing I got extra fabric, and this didn't take much yardage.
This is a little bit of the steps I took - figuring out how far apart, fold, pin, sew, iron, sew more!
The sleeves weren't too complicated, once I discovered the ribbon I thought would work for stripes was too sheer and wouldn't show up. Extra bit of pink satin to the rescue! I cut the pink satin close to the shape of the sleeve - narrower because there wouldn't be stripes in the underarm area, taller because I wanted them caught fully in the seams. Then I cut strips, ironed down both sides, pinned to the purple sleeves in rows, and stitched them on. Adding the lace at the bottom is just the perfect little touch!

For the skirt, I made the main front panel a lighter purple, with two overhangs of darker purple coming over that on both sides. Gathering the skirt together to attach to the bodice can be a pain when it's a full skirt, but that rectangle sure does look pretty when it's all together, doesn't it?

Here you can see the dress almost finished... with sleeves, then the grommets! I love my grommet presser, it's so nice to come up with a project like this, and know I can add in grommets with ease. This dress also has the MOST trim I've ever put on a single dress - but it's all costume-appropriate. Since in the movie, Rapunzel makes her own dresses, I think she just has a thing for lace.

I may be a snob when it comes to store bought costumes, but I can be a sucker for licensed accessories... This year, she didn't get the princess shoes (they were sold out anyhow), but she got a light up crown that came with a musical necklace and a purse - mainly I wanted the iconic crown! And she already had the doll, I can't resist taking a photo of doll and costume!

 And here, the princess herself in her dress! She still loves it, even though the satin snagged early on. Maybe it's because I let her sit on that bridge? There is a lot of length hemmed up in the skirt with the idea of letting it out as she grows taller, but with the snags I'm thinking that's a no-go. Oh well, she can have fun with it now!
Thanks for joining me again on the A to Z blogging journey! Check out the other bloggers in the challenge and come back next week for more!

Friday, April 19, 2013

A Quiver of Queens

Welcome to the regularly scheduled post for today, for the letter Q! Today I would like to feature a Quiver of Queens, some of my favorites from history and fiction.
Queen Elizabeth I of England has always been one of my favorite queens, considering we share a name and all. She rose from the adversity of her birth - her mother was decapitated when she was a toddler and her sister later imprisoned her - to be one of the most loved monarchs of England. There's even an era named after her, the Elizabethan Era, also sometimes known as the Golden Age. Under her rule, English drama flourished, especially William Shakespeare and Christopher Marlowe. I've watched movies and read books based on her life, and they're all great. Especially Cate Blanchette's portrayal of her. And Phillippa Gregory's British historical romance novels are great - there's one or two featuring Elizabeth I, others about her father, mother, other Tudors and even back before her family with the War of the Roses players. Fun fact - she's the featured ruler of the British Empire in the video game Civilization 5.

But she's not the only great queen around. There are plenty of other historical queens who did great deeds and ruled well, but Elizabeth I is still my favorite. For fictional queens though, I have some other favorites...

Queen Guinevere of Arthurian legend is a conflicted character - does she really love Arthur? In some stories, she does, in others, it's just a marriage of convenience. I want her to love him, Arthur deserves a true love after all he goes through. Child of the Northern Spring by Persia Wooley is a good story about young Guinevere, I never read the following novels - now that I've discovered their existence online I want to! Another favorite Arthurian tale focusing on this queen is Queen of Camelot by Nancie McKenzie. I'm a little into Arthurian legend, so I have a few books about it. I'm always disappointed when Guinevere turns to Lancelot, because I want Arthur to be happy!

Another queen with heartache is Queen Amlaruil Moonflower of Evermeet, a nation in the role playing game setting of Forgotten Realms. She wasn't meant to be queen, but rose to the position, and then through an cruel mistake loses her king but has to keep ruling without him, holding the nation together. She is featured in Evermeet: Island of Elves by Elaine Cunningham, a very interesting history of elves in Forgotten Realms.

The queens in George R. R. Martin's A Song of Ice and Fire series provide many different styles of ruling - or yearning to rule. Queen Cersei is a queen you love to hate, Stannis' queen is not really worth thought, while Daenerys' journey to claim her father's throne makes you love her but sometimes wonder at her choices on the how to get there.

Queen Gogo in the movie 300 is worth mentioning for her amazing speech before the council - she's a strong inspiration for characters I play that focus on diplomacy. Aurora's mother in Sleeping Beauty and Rapunzel's mother in Tangled both show love toward their long-lost daughters without speaking, just lovely. And of course, the Scarlet Empress of Exalted is a queen, well more than a queen, and amazing in her role.

Queen Cleopatra of Egypt is always an interesting topic, with the Ptolemaic custom of brother-sister marriages and her affair with Marc Antony. Queen Catherine the Great of Russia, more commonly called Empress, revitalized her country during her long rule, while Queen Marie Antoinette of France led a dangerous life of court intrigue - never really in power until her husband's decline, but often in the public eye until her public execution.

That's an exhausting list of queens to read and write about! Do you have a favorite above, or another queen you admire or love to read about? Share in the comments!

Thank you for joining me through this crazy blogging journey from A to Z! Come back tomorrow for something that starts with R!