Busy Night

I had a billion and one things to accomplish yesterday evening, most of which I can’t even write about because they had to do with Christmas gifts for people that I know read this blog. One thing I can mention is that I did get the chance to put the last finishing touches on the Frankensteined gaming PC (made with excess parts graciously donated by our friends) that my husband and I are giving Thing 1 for Christmas. She doesn’t have Internet access yet, so here I can sigh with relief here about having at least one major gift out of the way.

Dinner was a quick one, since I can only do so many things at once, and for a change the kitchen was not calling me. I wanted to eat at least somewhat healthily, so I made up some soft tacos with a pre-packaged spice mix. Well, I say “made up”, but mostly I just prepped all of the ingredients and set them out on the table so that everyone could fill their own tacos. I fixed mine up with spiced ground beef, avocado, lettuce, tomato, mayonnaise, and lactose-free cheddar. Also available on the table were sour cream (which I prefer over mayo, but can’t eat), homemade blender salsa canned earlier this year, and shredded cheddar cheese.

Dinner out of the way, I went on to work on some Christmas crafts. I whipped up my first-ever circle skirt for Thing 1 — which is even easier for a kid than for an adult since there aren’t any seams! A friend of mine recommended the following resources to me, which were invaluable:

Make a circle skirt without a pattern by Costuming Diary
Circle Skirt (and a follow-up instructional video by Made Everyday
The Best Way to Sew Bias Tape by Positively Splendid

I combined the techniques because I wasn’t working with a serger, and because I wanted a finished waistband edge but I also wanted the cute red elastic to show. This skirt will be worn later in the week when the girls go get their pictures taken with Santa. I still have to make a second, smaller one for Thing 2. Hopefully I can make the time tomorrow.

In every spare minute, I’m knitting away on cloths to be given as gifts. I think of this colourway as “Evil Minion“. This is either the last or second-last one, depending on how much yarn I am left with. After that, it’s time to start on knitted owls for my girls’ Guiding leaders.

As we do every year, we have had a guest in our house starting December 1st. Candy Cane will stay until December 25th, at which point she will be whisked back to the North Pole where she will stay until next holiday season. Here she is unpacking all of her copious outfits. I know some people find The Elf on the Shelf kind of creepy, but my kids really love her and look forward to her annual arrival. We’ve never made a big deal of the “reporting back to Santa” aspect of the Elves at our house, so my kids just see her as another piece of Christmas magic.

Last-Minute Costume Revealed

Much to my surprise, we all managed to complete our costumes in time for Ottawa Comiccon: Holiday Edition over the weekend. My friends got some really great shots of our group, but they will have to wait until tomorrow because I spent way too long wrestling with the compatibility of unfamiliar camera RAW formats to finish going through them all. It was also my very first time trying to get edit photos of lightsabers so they look like they’re glowing.

The snowy weather provided a perfect backdrop to our group picture:


Photo by Ian Walton.

Left to right, that’s Darth Kristoff (with Olaf on his back), Darth Sven, Jedi Elsa, and me on the far right as Jedi Anna. Yes, we did do a Disney’s Frozen/Star Wars mashup.

I can definitely say that we had a lot of fun wearing these costumes, even for a con as small as the holiday one (which, let’s be honest, is more of a marketplace and less of a con). After all the work I put into this costume, I am determined to wear it on at least one other occasion, though!

Clean Out Your Refrigerator Day

I’m still working away on that last-minute costume. I got so caught up in the process that I stayed up until almost 2:00am without even realizing it! I had absolutely no intention of staying up too late. When I get into problem-solving mode, I hate to stop when I’m on a roll. If I’d been super-frustrated, I would probably have stopped earlier (although there was a large seam that I “sewed” without realizing that the bobbin had run out).

I couldn’t find my meter stick, so I did end up using a wooden prop sword in order to trace a long, straight line on my fabric. My father pointed out afterward that I could have just called and borrowed his, but the sword was only a few feet away from where I was sewing, and it worked out fine!

November 15th is Clean Out Your Refrigerator Day, so I made a dinner entirely out of what I had around the house. This had nothing to do with the fact that I’ve been so engrossed in costume construction that I haven’t gone out to do groceries, I swear. I went with one of the simplest clean-out-the-fridge dishes: stir fry. I cooked up the veggies I had on hand (celery, zucchini, and frozen peas), scrambled in some egg, threw in some cooked rice and shrimp, and gave it all a good drizzle of sesame oil and soy sauce while I cooked it all together for a few minutes. My husband asked for seconds, which I figure means it wasn’t half bad.

After the kids went to bed, I wanted to treat myself to some banana bread, which is pretty much my favourite quick bread. I even had some bananas I’d frozen before they went bad that I needed to use up, so the timing was perfect. I’d seen a Tasty video for 6 Desserts To Make In Your Microwave, so I thought I’d give their individual microwave banana bread a shot. Sadly, as with the microwave oatmeal bread I made a while back, I was disappointed. The more I try it, the less I think that microwaves can be used for half-decent baking.

First of all, there was a recipe in the YouTube transcription of the recipe. If you watch the video, the ingredients include 3 Tbsp brown sugar and 1/2 tsp baking powder, but the recipe under the video calls for 3 Tbsp brown sugar and then another 1/2 tsp brown sugar, with no baking powder. Luckily I noticed that there was no rising agent before I started cooking, but by then I’d already added the extra 1/2 tsp brown sugar, too.

Once the banana bread was cooked, I found it to be largely tasteless. I found that interesting, because it contains basically the same ingredients as the more traditional banana bread in the Joy of Cooking; what really differentiates the two, other than size, is the cooking method. I think that because the Tasty version is made so quickly in the microwave, instead of cooking for an hour or more in the oven, it doesn’t have a chance to develop its flavour, which probably mostly comes from the crust. Microwave cooking, in general, doesn’t create proper crusts. Also, I found the consistency of the microwave banana bread to be less like a quick bread and more like a sponge or a pudding. I cooked it for an extra 30 seconds over the recommended time and tested it with a cake tester for doneness, so I know it was definitely cooked all the way through. Even so, the consistency was more like microwave scrambled eggs than like bread.

Of course, opinions may vary, and you may like banana bread made this way. I think that I will stick to baking in the oven from now on, except perhaps for the occasional experiment.

Progress

I had planned on spending all day yesterday working on my costume, but a power outage until after noon made that highly problematic. I couldn’t even cut out pattern or fabric pieces, since that requires a large, flat surface, and the only spot like that in my house was my basement floor — where there was no power for lights.

Luckily, I had a good portion of the rest of the day to work on the costume, and some progress was made. I am happy to say that at least one element of the costume is complete. I did have to take a break to cook and eat dinner, though.

I didn’t want to make something that took hours of prep work, since I should have been spending that time sewing. I still had one enormous zucchini left to cook (my friends, overloaded with their harvest, kept bringing me more), so I made a big batch of baked Panko zucchini sticks. Normally I wouldn’t peel the zucchini, but this time I did because the squash was huge and old, so the skin was very tough. For meat, I chopped up some chicken, coated it in Golden Dragon Thick Teriyaki Sauce, and fried it up on the stove while the zucchini baked. It all turned out quite well, and it was found acceptable by my friend who came over in the evening to work on her own costume. We were up until well past midnight sewing, and we’re not done yet!

Last-Minute Costume

Some friends of mine had these great mash-up Halloween costumes this year, and they’d mentioned at a party this season that they’d like to upgrade them for a mini convention coming up this month. I’d like to say that they dragooned me into cosplaying with them, but I kind of volunteered. I’d made a similar costume before, how hard could it be, right?

I’m adapting two McCall’s patterns: M7225 (Misses’/Men’s Cape and Tunic Costumes) and M7229 (Men’s/Misses’ Nativity Scene Costumes). I don’t want to come out and say what it’s going to be just yet, because I’m not a hundred percent sure that I’m going to get it done in time. What I will definitely say is that it’s definitely not what the pattern designers had in mind.

I’ll be re-using some stencils from a few years ago and, if you know the movie that part of this costume is based on, these motifs might give it away. Even so, I’d be surprised if anyone can guess exactly what this mash-up costume will be. (No giving it away for those I’ve already told in person!)

At any rate, I think that this view will be my life for the next few days. I really hope that this costume turns out well; if so, I might be able to persuade my kiddos to do a group with me for the next ComicCon. Right now they’re talking Legend of Zelda instead, which I totally approve of, but it would be so much easier if I already had one of the costumes done this far in advance.

Link’s Tunic

My eldest daughter’s birthday is coming up, so I wanted to make her something extra-special as a gift. When we went to ComicCon this year, Thing 1 kept spotting foam replicas of Link’s Master Sword (from The Legend of Zelda series) out on the sales floor, and she asked me if she could have one every time she found one. My response was that it was too expensive; I had given the girls a budget of $20 each to buy something, and the swords usually came in between $30 and $35. Instead she came away from the con with a chain necklace with a pendant shaped like a Golden Snitch, which also lit up from inside with a tiny LED, and she seemed quite satisfied.

However, I had two days at the con without the kids along, and in my browsing I managed to find a competitively-priced Master Sword, along with a cheap plastic Hylian Shield. I stashed the sword and shield away for a few months to save them for her birthday. But I also figured that I could take the gift up a notch and make her a play costume to go along with the pre-made items.


McCall’s M6224

To me, a play costume is one that I don’t spend a huge amount of time or money on because there’s a good chance it won’t last all that long, since my kids are allowed to wear play costumes whenever they want and to do whatever they want in them. This is why most of their play costumes are second-hand finds, hand-me-downs, or bought on the 90%-off sales after Halloween. To that end, I used McCall’s pattern M6224, which I already had in my stash from ages ago. (Although I didn’t use this specific pattern to make the girls’ ComicCon costumes this year, I should note that one-piece pajama patterns are great to adapt into costumes.)


Cutting the pattern.

This time I didn’t use the one-piece pajamas and instead went for option C, which is a short-sleeved pajama top reminiscent of the scrubs one would wear for working in a hospital. I lengthened the top a bit to make it more of a tunic than a shirt, which will eventually be belted into place. I used fabric from my stash as well, which was the remnants of a dark green sheet that I’d used parts of for some craft or other years ago.

As the pattern envelope promised, the pattern was really easy to make. I think it only took me about two hours from unpacking the pattern to ironing the final product. Now, it looks a little big to me, but pajamas and tunics both are meant to fit loosely, and anyway it will be belted in. If worst comes to worst, I can always take it in. Strangely, my biggest worry is that the neck hole may not be large enough; the fabric has absolutely no stretch whatsoever, and Thing 2 has a massive noggin, just like both of her parents.

Die-hard Zelda fans probably are looking at the tunic and thinking, “Isn’t that supposed to have lacing, and a collar?” Yes, I suppose it is, if I was going for true accuracy. I kind of went for a look between adult Link in Ocarina of Time (what with the length of the sleeves, not to mention the sword and shield) and Four Swords Link (with the V-neck tunic). As much as I love 100% accurate costumes, I didn’t think it was necessary to play dress-up at home. Also, generally the more accurate the costume, the more time and money it takes, neither of which I wanted to spend on something that would probably get food and dirt smeared all over it.

The next step is to get a belt and a long-sleeved shirt to go underneath, as well as to make Link’s cap. Hopefully I’ll get it all done in time!

Curtains

I have a pet peeve — and it’s not a tiny creature that sits around chewing with its mouth open. This time of year, it gets very hot around here, accompanied by high humidity. It hit 32°C (89.6°F) here yesterday, with a humidex of 38°C (100.4°F). That’s pretty hot no matter where you’re from, but around here our summers are short enough that we don’t truly get a chance to adjust to the heat. And yet, on days where the Weather Network is broadcasting heat warnings, I know people who sit in their air-conditioned homes and complain about the heat — despite the fact that they are sitting in a sun-bathed room. Put up some curtains already! You will be more comfortable, your energy bill won’t be so high, and you’re putting less strain on the environment. As a side bonus, in the winter those same curtains will once again help keep your energy costs down as they will help reduce drafts.


My kitchen table with the curtains open.

Now, I’m not talking about people who have legitimate financial, physical, or mental issues that preclude them putting up curtains. However, in my experience, the people who are in the direst financial straights are also the people who, out of necessity, will cut their utility bills any way they can — air conditioning is a luxury, after all. To beat the heat, many people will hang sheets or blankets over their windows with tacks. Sometimes people build improvised shutters out of flattened cardboard boxes. These may not be the prettiest solutions, but they are effective. Or, if a little money can be budgeted, it’s possible to shop around until the perfect curtains are found on clearance at 90% off. Learning to sew homemade curtains is also an option, not that much sewing has been necessary since the invention of iron-on hemming strips and curtain rings with clips.

No, what I’m talking about is people who should know better, and who have no impediments to putting up proper curtains, but choose not to and then whine that their summer cooling bill is so high.


My kitchen table with the curtains closed.

As I mentioned, yesterday was one of the first scorchers of the year here, and of course that’s when my A/C broke down. We managed to keep our house at an acceptable temperature by opening up the windows at night and in the early morning, then closing both our windows and our curtains up tight for the heat of the day. By sunset, the house had warmed up somewhat, but we were only on the verge of “uncomfortable” — whereas outside it was “too hot to freaking move”. I credit that partially due to the fact that we have decent insulation in the walls (just standard, relatively-modern stuff to protect us from Canadian winters), and our curtains on the sunniest windows of the house being lined with blackout fabric.


My kitchen table with the curtains closed, after adding blackout lining.

To illustrate this, I took photos of my kitchen with plain curtains open, plain curtains closed, and curtains closed with blackout lining added. All photos were taken within a ten-minute span, and the curtains were all white Merete curtains by IKEA — which I love as they open/close easily and are opaque enough for privacy’s sake. The lining used in the bottom picture was heavyweight stuff purchased at Fabricland some years ago. I didn’t change the exposure on my camera so that it’s possible to compare the difference between the light let in by the lined and unlined curtains.

Curtains lined with blackout fabric (or with an opaque coating on the back of the main fabric) have become really affordable over the last ten years or so, as has the heavy-duty drapery hardware that it takes to support thicker curtains. It’s even possible to sew an old curtain to the back of a new one to maximize light blockage and prevent the fabric from fading. Or there’s always the sheet/blanket/cardboard options. If you don’t like “living in a cave”, as some have complained to me about dark rooms, you can only open the curtains in the room you’re currently in, kind of like a reverse-Nicole-Kidman in The Others. So to me, if you choose not to put up or close curtains, it seems an act of artificial helplessness to bemoan how hot it is and how high your home cooling costs have become, or that your brand new air conditioner isn’t performing nearly as well as promised. Wouldn’t it be better to take a stab at mitigating the problem rather than complaining?