Archive for the ‘nerd’ Category

Geeky birthday cake

For Husband’s birthday, I made him a dark chocolate cake with orange-flavored buttercream.  This time I made the buttercream recipe that was passed along to me from a friend (thank you, Jen!!) and was exactly the style of buttercream that I was hoping for when I made my daughter’s birthday cake (and that frosting wasn’t).  This buttercream is delicious and frothy and white and sugary and has a lovely satisfying crunchy crust.  And with the orange flavoring, it was divine.

I did not, however, do nearly as good of a job on the decoration of the cake.  ::sigh:: I am such a perfectionist, and when I envision something in my head, it kind of stings when it doesn’t come out right in reality.  I have a LOT to learn when it comes to cake decorating, so the chances are pretty good that my cakes are going to look very amateurish…  And that was definitely the case this time.  Not only did I have a more basic fail in the baking of the cake (expired baking powder!  I should have known better!!!), but the decorating leaves a lot to be desired.  There are no do-overs with white frosting and bright green piping!


But I’m showing it here because 1) I want to make it perfectly clear that my projects do not come out well every time! and 2) the idea was fun.  It was Husband’s idea, really, to have the gaming dice on the top of the cake to add to his birthday year.


I did a lot of practice drawings to try to get the dice just right.




Multi-sided dice are hard to draw!  I practiced a ton on scraps of paper, but even so, they came out a bit wonky.  I have a new level of appreciation for the precise piping that professional decorators do on their cakes!  I just cut the barest tip off of the corner of the zip-top bag I used to pipe the words and drawings.  I also played with one of the other fancy tips that came in the package I purchased when I did my daughter’s cake to do the border.

Practice makes perfect, right?  I’ll just have to make a lot more cakes! 😉

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One of our favorite family projects is our costumes each year.  As fall progresses, we inevitably begin discussing what our family costume could be.  This year, we had our idea pretty early, but without a real reason to put the costume together, we had sadly decided to just let it go this year.  With a 4-month old and an almost-3-year-old, our time was too valuable to spend on a costume that we’d never really wear anywhere.

But that all changed when an invitation to a Halloween party arrived from our friends!  We had about a week and a half to put together our costume, and we forged full-speed ahead!

Introducing: Lego Movie family!



We decided to be the “real-life” versions of the characters (rather than make ourselves into minifigs/blocks).  P.S.  Thanks, Amanda, for your help taking photos!

I absolutely love this annual project that Husband and I do together (in the future, I’m looking forward to our kids’ increasing involvement!).  I really feel like we work so well together for our costumes; it is a true collaboration, and we have so much fun!

Husband was Emmet, of course.



We made a construction vest for him out of orange felt and reflective duct tape (with drawn-on pocket and pen, just like Emmet’s vest!).  Husband also made an ID tag for himself.


I was Wyldstyle.



I found an image of the graffiti-style artwork on her jacket by doing a search online, and we turned it into a Silhouette cut file so that we could make a freezer-paper stencil.  Husband did a fantastic job tweaking the stencil to fit properly on my jacket and lining up the two colors!


The part of the costume I was most looking forward to was adding color to my hair!  Unfortunately the inexpensive “hair mascara” we found wasn’t quite as vibrant as we’d hoped, but it did an okay job.  Now I think we’re going to have to find more costumes with colored hair for me! 😉  I’m considering just putting colored streaks in my hair from time to time…just for the fun of it!


Our daughter was Princess Unikitty.




The most important part, of course, was a headband with ears and a unicorn horn.  We created the horn based on some photos of cute unicorn horns on Etsy, and made the ears with stitched triangles of pink felt.  The horn is attached to the headband by a “strap” of felt sewn into its base, and the ears attach with loops of elastic.  It’s a bonus that the horn and ears are removeable; it just worked out that it was the most effective way to attach them.


I also made a tail.  I spend hours (literally) nursing my son, so I have a lot of time to visualize these sorts of things in my head, and I was pretty excited that my idea to use a gusset to give it a squared-off shape worked the first time!  The waist straps are based off of a tutorial for adorable dinosaur/dragon tails that I have pinned (I really, really want to make some more tails now! ;-))  I added the pink tutu at the last minute because I am convinced that if Unikitty were a human girl, she would most definitely have a tutu.  Plus it made V’s outfit more “costumey.”


What had clinched the idea for this particular family costume was that we had a hat for our little boy– it was Husband’s when he was a baby, and it was absolutely perfect for Benny the Spaceman!



We found a blue onesie at Hobby Lobby and purchased some blue pants elsewhere.  I did another search online for the Lego Space logo and turned it into a cut file for my Silhouette.  We stenciled a solid white layer first, then added the yellow and red once it was dry.


How about some action shots?





Spaceship, spaceship, SPACESHIP!!!!!

Spaceship, spaceship, SPACESHIP!!!!!

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Garden 2013 wrap-up

Even though I pretty much consider myself an ex-physicist, that doesn’t mean that I’m no longer a nerd! I just spent a few days writing a data-filled post about my garden last summer.  It made me so happy to make those simple little plots!

Yes, I know it’s 2014, and winter is in full swing.  I realized I never did a wrap-up of my 2013 garden, so with garden planning on the close horizon for this summer, I thought it would be a good time!  (P.S. you can see all posts about my 2013 garden by clicking HERE)

garden2013diagramAbove, you can see the diagram of our garden.  We stuck to the plan and I kept a spreadsheet of the produce we collected out of the garden.

First, let me show you some overall results for our garden.  I created some simple charts based on my tally of the produce harvested last summer, and I’ll address each type of produce individually.



Overall, we got fewer tomatoes than I expected this year.  They also started producing much, much later than I hoped or expected, especially since we live in a warmer climate than in previous years.  I liked the flavor of all of my varieties pretty well.  Fourth of July is fairly basic, but I plant it because of the promise of early and continuous fruiting.  Well, it was continuous, but certainly not early!  My first Fourth of July tomato was harvested on July 27, and the second on August 5!  Best Boy tomatoes tasted pretty good, but I had problems with them getting eaten by something (caterpillars?  deer?  tallish gnomes with very sharp, small teeth?) just before they were ripe enough for picking.  It was pretty discouraging.  As always, the Jelly Bean tomatoes are my favorites (so sweet!!), but it seemed like our overall harvest was smaller than last year (when we were in upstate NY).


I was extremely delighted with the Burpee cucumber harvest I had in 2013!  Throughout the summer, I collected sixty (yes, 60!) cucumbers from the three vines on that trellis.  And I was selfish– I didn’t share even one 😉  Cucumbers are probably my favorite thing to come out of the garden, and I delighted in eating them on salads, in sandwiches, and as creamy cucumber salad.  The Ferry-Morse cucumbers?  Not so much.  I harvested 15 from the three vines on their trellis, and really, I didn’t like their flavor or texture.  I did learn one thing though:  all the previous years that I thought I had such abysmal luck with cucumbers may have been due to this particular variety.  The FM vines were never as healthy-looking as the Burpees, which were right next to them; the FM vines died quickly, and I finally ended up just cutting them off the trellis at the beginning of September.  The Burpee vines continued fruiting all the way through September!  I will most definitely be planting the Burpee variety again. Yum!


Well, we had a better year this year than last time– but that’s not saying much, since I had quite the war with our resident groundhog back in upstate New York.  I really was hoping for a bumper crop (zucchini bread is sooooo yummy, and I love those zucchini fritters).  But I was pretty disappointed.  Despite the promises on the seed packet that we would “feed the neighborhood!” we got a grand total of 9 zucchini from two plants.  Granted, one of those nine was over 5 lbs, but that wasn’t enough to make up for the relative dearth of zucchini.  I’m really not sure what is going wrong.  Is something managing to get inside our fence and eat them??  I do have a suspicion that there were some deer raiding the outer perimeter of the garden, based on suspiciously “pruned” branches of the tomato plants– and every once in a while the zucchinis would look a little skimpy.


To be complete, I must include my little herb garden box.  This was an astonishing failure.  I think the main problem was that I thought it was getting watered when it rained, but in truth, part of the box was shielded by an overhang off of our house.  I probably should have watered it more, anyway, since it is a container and therefore by definition can’t hold moisture as well.  I also think the box was a bit too shallow, but it’s what I’ve got.  I’ll try again this year and see if I can do better.

Estimated value:

I was interested to see if we saved any money by having our own garden… though that isn’t the main point of having a garden (it can be a bonus, though, for sure).  I just love growing things, and I love the taste of fresh garden produce!

So first, because I’m so nice and Type-A, I keep a spreadsheet of my “personal spending,” that is, spending that we have categorized as my hobbies.  This is not only to keep myself accountable to staying within our agreed-upon hobby budget, but also so that I can track how much I’ve spent on a particular project or project categories.  Using this spreadsheet, I calculated that we spent about $145.50 on supplies for our garden this year.  That is hopefully more than we will spend in future years, since we were buying some pieces that will be used for future gardens (the plastic/metal stakes, the trellises, the fencing, and supplies for the rain barrel).

Next, I totaled the counts or weights of each of the varieties I harvested.  In the chart below, I show how I calculated an estimated value for the produce we collected in our 2013 garden.  Unfortunately, I forgot to take note of the summer prices for the produce!  I had to make some educated guesses for the tomatoes and zucchini–see notes below.  I tried to be fair, but err on the low side.  However, cucumbers have been a steady $0.68 each throughout the year at the store where I normally buy groceries.

In all, I estimated that we produced about $101.15 of tomatoes, cucumbers, and zucchini in the summer of 2013!  Not bad at all!  That means we recovered all but (145.50-101.15)= $44.35 of what we spent in supplies for the garden.  Pretty cool.


* prices based on local Sam’s Club prices, 1/21/2014.  I think this is fair, since my tomatoes are of a high quality.  A friend reported to me that at a local organic market, all tomatoes were generally 4.99/lb (organic), sometimes 3.99 on sale. Organic zucchini was 2.99/lb.  NOTE that my garden is not intentionally organic, though I didn’t add any commercial fertilizers, organic or otherwise, at all this year.

** After I started recording just the count of zucchini harvested, I realized that it is most often sold by weight.  Therefore, I estimated that each zucchini was about 0.5 lbs (except for the enormous one, which I had actually weighed). 

Coming soon:

A new blog post with our garden plan for 2014!

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PhD defense

Okay, so I am super-thrilled with how this layout turned out!  So if you don’t agree, don’t tell me, haha!


My first layout back felt a little stilted and forced, even though I was reasonably happy with the outcome.  But this one came together so much more quickly and easily!  I spent <30 min during my daughter’s morning nap pulling supplies out to choose the color scheme, etc., and I actually put together the layout during her afternoon nap (about 1.5 hours), finishing up with the die-cut portion of the title later.  So about 2 hours!  Yay!  I think I like it more for less hemming and hawing!


I used the MME January Challenge sketch for the layout.  I looked at it pretty closely, and then walked away to interpret it mentally.  While I was working, I was trying to channel Melissa and Shimelle— during my scrapbook hiatus, these ladies were among the designers who inspired me the most.  I’d read their posts and watch their videos and just itch to play with paper!  I completely and utterly admire their layering skills and I’m hoping to practice what I’ve learned from them as I make more layouts.


I have a hoard of MME “So Sophie” that I pulled out for this challenge.  I’ve had this photo printed for a really long time, but for some reason I never got around to putting it on a page.  In my head, I’d envisioned a color scheme involving royal blue, but when I pulled out these papers, I realized that the indigo/aqua/olive combination was perfect!


One last little note: Those star-shaped brads have been in my collection since like, forever!  Or really, probably something like 2007.  When I bought them, I’d pictured using them on my engagement scrapbook layout (still haven’t made that one!  Husband proposed in our local planetarium… 🙂 )!  I decided to finally break into them for this layout, since my dissertation was an astronomy topic.  🙂

patterned paper: My Mind’s Eye “So Sophie” We Are Family- Floral Swirl (A-side), Loop-de-loop (both sides); My Mind’s Eye “So Sophie” Sisters- Peaceful Plum (B-side)
cardstock: Recollections (kraft), American Crafts (white)
alphas: My Mind’s Eye “So Sophie” Clever- Pretty Girl Sticker Alphabet, Silhouette SD (font Wendy Medium)
embellishments: Making Memories (olive plaid brad, white metal ornament), The Paper Studio (star brads), Tim Holtz Tiny Attacher, embroidery floss, paper doily
punches: Fiskars (Apron Lace), Martha Stewart (Bubble Bath), McGill (star shape)

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Everyone has their own photo “workflow.”  Since mine has become a bit more intensive recently, I thought it would be interesting to document it in a post here on my blog (like I promised in THIS POST).  The biggest change to my workflow was to add the metadata step.  Now I can write down a few words, phrases, or sentences about why I took a photo, and that information is attached to the photo forever.  It’s pretty awesome.

But, I’m getting ahead of myself.  Here’s my photo workflow:

    • transfer photos from memory card to computer.  I use a chronological organization system.  I have a main folder for each year.  Each year has subfolders for each month.  The files get copied into their corresponding month folder according to the date taken.  If  the photos are from a special event (meaning a lot more photos than normal in a short period of time), I might create a subfolder for the event in the month folder.
    • delete any obviously unusable photos.  I don’t delete too many photos, but I try not to keep photos that are very blurry, poorly lit, showing weird facial expressions (unless intentional, haha!), etc.
    • rename photos.  My current naming convention is MM_DD_YYYY_{briefdescription}.  Next year, I might rearrange it to be YYYY_MM_DD_{briefdescription}.  The {briefdescription} might be a bit redundant (see the metadata step), but it helps me to quickly identify my photos.
    • import photos into organizer.  I do this because it is easier to do the next step from my organizer.  {Note: Right now, I am using the Photo Organizer that is part of the PSE7 software.  Now that my photo library is 18,300+ photos, the software is getting sluggish.  In the near future, I’m thinking that I might look into Adobe Lightroom for my photo management.  I’ve heard good things, but I don’t know much about it yet.)
    • add captions to metadata. This is like the old write-on-the-back-of-the-photo system, but digital!  This is probably the most important step in my photo process, because this step allows me to tell the story behind the photo.  In the PSE organizer, I add text to the “Caption and “Notes” fields of the photo Properties panel.  This information then is added to the metadata of the file itself, and is carried with it whenever the photo is copied or uploaded other places.  I generally tell a brief story about the photo and identify the people in the photos.  Some notes:
      • I am very careful when I put personal information (full names, places, etc.) into this metadata.  (Some cameras also add GPS information to photos) If I upload the photo online, this information can become public!!  I try and make sure to strip the metadata that has sensitive information before putting anything online.
      • You can add metadata to your files in other programs besides PSE.  I looked at THIS POST for some more information on accessing and editing metadata in other software programs.  (And thank you, Noell Hyman for putting the bee in my bonnet about this whole metadata thing)
    • BACK UP!!!!!  Every Sunday evening, a message from my Google calendar pops up in my inbox.  I plug in the external hard drive, and my computer gets down to business backing up.  I also do a back up before a big trip if I’m taking my laptop along.  Seriously, people.  Back up your computers.  I also send my favorites (see next step) to another computer that my dad has set up for family file storage.
    • pick some favorites.   In my PSE organizer, I’ve created some albums into which I drag my favorite photos for each month.  These photos get posted to a Shutterfly site that I share with family and friends.  I also created albums to hold the photos I will print for my Project 366 album.
    • do some editing, maybe.  If I know I’m going to print a photo, I do some minor edits.  For sure, I will do the 4×6 cropping myself before ever uploading it for printing.  Sometimes I do some other adjustments for brightness, color, etc.  I’m gradually learning how to use the powerful tools in PSE, but I still have a long way to go!  Also, I need to make sure that my monitor is calibrated so what I’m seeing on the screen is what I’ll see on my prints… but that’s a whole ‘nother ball of wax.
    • did I mention?  BACK UP!!  I want to make sure that all my hard work annotating and editing is safe!
    • print!  I am most likely to look at my photos if they are printed.  I print for my Project 366 album, and I also print some to put into frames around the house.  And soon, I’ll be back to printing for scrapbook layouts!  Yay!

What’s your photo workflow?  Do you add information to your metadata?

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I made this pillow entirely from scraps from other sewing projects around the nursery.  The inspiration is THIS pattern, which is really straightforward…

Basically, I pieced random coral and aqua fabric scraps onto a muslin base.  Because I knew I couldn’t be trusted to do a very random job (haha), I stole an idea from my sister-in-law:  I “numbered” the five fabrics that I had, got out a trusty 6-sided die and rolled to see which fabric would come next (a roll of “6” meant re-roll).  I have to admit, I did cheat every once in a while– since it’s a linear design, I didn’t want any repeats, and sometimes I just wanted to make sure the the fabrics were more “equally” represented.  But on the whole, the method was great!

I sewed the pieced strip between two leftover strips of paisley eyelet, hemmed the short ends, and stitched the long ends into an envelope-style pillow cover to fit a form that I had on hand.

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GI Joe

I’ll be honest with you, I was totally stumped on how to do this page.  At GenCon, we played a Mutants and Masterminds game with a GI Joe theme, and we had a great time– especially Husband, who had fond memories of watching and playing GI Joe with his friends when he was little.  I had no photos from the game, but I did have packages of vintage GI Joe stickers that the game facilitator handed out as sort of prizes during the session.  What was I going to do with just them and some journaling?

Thankfully, the Lily Bee Sketch #3 came to my rescue!

I opened the GI Joe sticker packs and arranged the stickers in a grid… To my delight, when Husband saw what I was doing, he got involved: choosing the stickers he liked best and arranging them to their best advantage.

He also helped me remember more details about the game for the journaling.  An unopened sticker pack acts as the title for the page.  With all the stickers, I decided to keep the embellishments to a minimum.  A few big cross-stitches at the top with the date, and a cardstock die cut across the bottom.

I never would have thought to pair Lily Bee paper with GI Joe, but it’s surprisingly effective.  GI Joe was never so chic, haha!

and P.S.– this is the last of my GenCon 2009 layouts!  Yippee!  Another trip finished and in my scrapbook albums.

patterned paper: Lily Bee French Couture (Handmade)
cardstock: the Paper Company
die cut: Lily Bee French Couture Fashion Essentials
journaling font: DJB Natalie Print
black pigment ink: Stampabilities
black pen: Sharpie Ultra Fine Point
date stamp
embroidery floss
GI Joe sticker packs
sketch: Lily Bee Challenge #3

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