New Years is not the time to make a resolution…

Slay the Gruncle

Anyone who loves science fiction has read about how in the future all our dietary needs will be available in pill form, or nutrient bars, or as an oatmeal like gruel as seen in the “MATRIX”.  How popular is that line; ” …Everything the body needs”? Well, meal replacements are not a thing of the future, actually they have been around for decades.  Remember when “Slim Fast” made it to the shelves?  Anyone else have memories pop up of their Mother choking down a can of slim fast, while doing her make up in the morning?  I still can remember the smell.  I know guys to this day, who chug a can of slim fast before donning their armor for a major battle in the SCA.  It is easily digestible and full of nutrients, protein, and vitamins;  “Meant” to be a long lasting dose of calories for the active body.  Other forms have also been available on the market, remember Dexatrim?  A pill form that was supposed to fill you up, giving your body the energy to power through the day.  Well with the amount of stimulants packed into those pills, you were also bouncing off the walls!

Even today there are lots of meal replacements available at local grocery stores, health/natural food stores, even at GNC.  Each one has it’s own claim on the market, and all basically do the same thing.  They all give you the fiber, nutrient, vitamin, protein, and calorie count that should equal 1 fully balanced meal.  You mix it, and go.  Viola!- your breakfast, lunch, or dinner is just a whir of the blender blades away.

I have tried many different meal replacement products, all of them tasted like ass.

Yes this is a a harsh thing for me to say, but honestly I tried so many different styles through out my adulthood.  Each one ended up going down the drain. The unpalatable powder mixes just moldered away on the shelf, being pushed aside for a more tasty option of pop-tart, power bar, luna bar, even oatmeal when I was desperate.  If these were not available (or even if they were), drive through was more delicious temptation than whirling tornado of powder mix being beaten in a blender… hoping that at least half the powder would mix in, and not just float to the top.

But another thing, none of these meal replacement products took into account the natural urge to chew, masticate, thoroughly enjoy a mouthful of yummy-delicious-oh so good FOOD.  So most people would take their shake or pill… and then end up snacking between meals.  Why? because their head would tell them they were hungry and needed to snack on something, ANYTHING.  Even though their bodies had all the calories it really needed to make it through the day.   There is a disconnect between the brain and stomach that needs to be reprogrammed. This is when people got into trouble, they’d just have a quick snack of chips, candy bar, fruit, or even veggies.  (WHOA, you may say, VEGGIES don’t have calories.  Well yes they do, not alot but they do.  And if you are supposed to be getting your complete calorie count from your meal replacement, then the addition of any more calories gets stored in the form of fat.  So unless you are pulling out the celery regularly… those sugar (and thus calorie) containing vegetables are now going to your hips.)

Now you may ask, what is the point of this?  Every year around this time people gorge themselves past fitting in their current wardrobe.  Partaking in all the wonderful and tasty goodies of the season… only to instantly decide to go on a diet come January 1st.  New Years resolutions… seriously? a starting date for a goal?  I thought you were supposed to set a GOAL and then work towards it, no matter the calender year!

I admit it, I love food.  Seriously I love good, fresh, home made food.  But I also enjoy tasty, manufactured food full of artificial dyes, salt, and ingredients I can’t pronounce (and I have a minor in chemistry…granted from over a decade ago). I believe that no one should starve themselves.  Each person is a wonderful and unique individual, and we should embrace who we are and not try to fit in the status quo boxes that media and society dangle in front of us.    But I also believe we should be happy with ourselves.

I started to not feel all that happy. I started to feel bloated, a loss of energy, and a loss of stamina. Frankly I did not want to be around me, so why would I expect anyone else to?  I found I turned to food even more, I was no longer enjoying what I ate. I just ate what I thought might make me feel better.  Well I can tell you a 20oz Coke and Twinkies before work does not fit in the “feel good” box. I was hitting the snooze button more times and running out the door without fixing a lunch… and even if I grabbed something I would still go out for fast food at Lunch Break.  It was a habit I knew needed to change.

But I love good food!  I love flavor! But most of all I realized I loved all of these while feeling full.

Now, around this time some of the girls at work had done a “mass diet” together for moral support. Lots of cleanses, water, more cleanses, and shakes.  It was interesting to watch, I have never been a big believer in crash diets, or instant fixes.  I got to see everything from a Niacin reaction, sending one of them to the ER.  To a massive line for the ladies room, because after all- all that water has to go somewhere.   I heard them boasting how the products came from New Zealand, grass fed cows.  I even listened to them boast that they got one more person signed up, so now they might actually be able to start making money!

I hate pyramid schemes. Always have, always will.

I am a skeptic.

But one thing I did notice, the binges to McD’s and the Bell had come to a sudden halt.  I noticed that many of the girls were ready to go, as soon as they walked through the door. Instead of hauling around an over full cup of crappy coffee.  I started to notice that lunches were slowly trickling in that had GREEN in them.  I was reminded how much I miss green in my food, heck how much I love COLOR in my food.

I needed to change something… Now.

But mornings come too early, days are too long and many times “LUNCH BREAK” was just written on the schedule tantalizingly close but not a reality.  I started to talk to my dear Hubby about doing some breakfast and Lunch shakes.  Not protein shakes but meal replacement shakes.  Now, remember back to Slim fast?  That was not what I was thinking… nor would ever settle on.  I decided to go to the local “health food store” and see what their selections were.  Walking in the door I found an entire WALL of meal replacement shakes.  Everything from gluten free, to dairy free, to hemp based.  I spent a good hour reading all the labels and comparing them.  But in all honesty I knew, for me, it would come down to the taste.  So picked up some individual serving packets to try.

I was so excited that first morning, I blended up my breakfast shake… had the lunch one packed up and ready to go. Got in the car, turned on my audio book, and took off on my 45 minute commute.  3 minutes and 5 sips in, I stopped the car and dumped then entire shake out on the side of the road. IT WAS DISGUSTING. Hemp based something-or-another, completely unpalatable and horrendous.  I just gave my self the shivers remembering it!  I stopped at fast food and was “fixed” for the day.

Round two, three, and four.  All failures.

I was getting upset.

Now, back to the girls at work, one day I was super hungry and even had a headache started because of it.  A coworker handed me a “snack”.  It looked like a giant chalky mentos.  She told me to chew two of them up and make sure to drink plenty of water.  I cocked my eyebrow at her, but heck I WAS HUNGRY!  I popped them into my mouth and chowed down, add some water and it was like a chocolate smoothie.

Isagenix.

I was hooked.  I had never had a pick me up snack nor a meal replacement taste anything like that. It tasted like creamy chocolate.  Now, as a caveat, it did not taste like Truffle pig, Ghirardelli, Hershey, Cadbury, or Green and Black- now those are CHOCOLATE.  This tasted like a chocolate snack.  There is a difference, and there will always be a difference… it’s called fat and sugar content!  I was curious about the meal replacement shakes… She stated they tasted the same as the snack, even better.

Next she gave me her card and sent me to their website. It was a little confusing, since I was starting off with only minimal knowledge, had only over heard somethings about it from others at work.  But knowing I liked the “snacks”. After sorting through all the weight loss testimonials, and “Isagenix Millionaires” crap, I finally found the products and all the ingredient listing. And yes they are proud about their New Zealand cows (a little secret folks, there are grass fed hormone free cows raised in your very own state!  you just have to pay a little more for the meat and dairy products. Because guess what, it takes more time and energy to raise them… but lowest price shopping does not always give you the best options).  What I did notice was the cost.  Especially if you are an “associate”.  The cost for all their products was comparable to the foul tasting stuff down a the “health food store” and even at GNC.  Now this, I could handle.

Again you have to wade past all the weight loss challenges and packages. All the youth and vitality in a bottle. But you can buy individual items and NO you do not have to invest your life savings to try them out.

Not everyone is on a diet.  Not everyone is looking for a quick fix for wrinkles.

If you are, great!  They have some wonderful, easy to use programs.  GO FOR IT.

I talked it over with my husband, and though he was listening through half an ear, he seemed to be game.  So I placed my first order.  Two shake canisters, one Dutch Chocolate and the other Vanilla.  I also wanted to try their “get more energy” drink powder  (I always loved the taste of Vit B drinks… I think I am the only one. AND it’s cheaper than Vitamin water). And some of the Snacks  in chocolate (the snack tablet my coworker had given me, that fateful day).

My husband was not happy the day the package arrived in the mail.  He did not think I was going to actually go through with it. But that night, when he got a late night craving he tried the “Snacks”.  He kept trying them again day after day after day… you get the idea.

The next day was a Saturday.  Pointless for a work shake, but I was so curious I just had to whip one up.  Mixed a chocolate scoop with a vanilla scoop.  My husband had a full vanilla shake.  I had mine about 7 am.  I was not hungry again until 12-ish.  Seriously NOT HUNGRY, not thinking about what I was going to make for lunch. NOTHING.  When my stomach finally told me it was empty, I was startled to see what time it was.  My husband on the other hand, was ready for something about 3 hours after his shake (viola’ a “snack” was there waiting for him!).

I did not make shakes again until Monday.  For breakfast I made my husband and I shakes, then I took one for lunch.  I was not hungry until Lunch, when I sat down for lunch I was not ravenous like usual but slightly peckish. I drank my shake.  That afternoon my schedule got super hectic and I was running around like a chicken… so about 3 hours later I started feeling some pangs of  hunger. Popped a Chocolate “Snack” and some water.  I was able to go home, have the time and energy to make my family a GREAT dinner and have a movie night.

I have done that every work day since.  With the exception of  one day where I worked 10 hours, and stopped for dinner pick up on the way home (even then I craved an awesome antipasto salad!).

I find on the weekends, I crave a shake. Just the flavor.

I have also found I no longer “need” my caffeine fix in the morning.  I am an avid Earl Gray drinker, going on 15+ years DAILY.  I must admit I no longer finish my tea in the morning, rather it’s drained on way home from work as I drive relaxing to music.

That was one month ago that I did my first order.  The day my last shake canister ran out, my new order arrived.  Honestly  I was as excited about it, as I am about my fabric orders.  This time I added a new shake flavor, and switched up the snacks.

I for now am happy.

That is what all this has been about.  Finding that happiness again.  I am excited about food again. I am excited about cooking again.  I am excited about going to dinner with my hubby again, whether it is burger n’ fries or Sushi.  I am excited to get up in the morning- not because I get to have a shake (HAH!)  but because I have the energy to get up. I feel good. I want to do stuff. I want to be…

Now if I had decided to start juicing instead, would I feel the same. Probably.  If I decided to go vegan, would I feel the same. Probably.  If I decided to start exercising daily, would I feel the same. Probably.  What I did works for me, and that is why I am sharing.

I have slayed the Dragon.

If you would like to learn more please visit the Isagenix website. For those of you wondering; yes, they have a facilities in the continental USA.  Remember, you can do as little or as much as you like. Everything is available for individual sale and you DO NOT HAVE to join a program.  But if you do join a program, enjoy your personal results!  I use my cheap Kitchen Ninja set up (you know the $60 one and not the $200 one!) to blend the shakes.  I tend to blend my lunch shake in the morning at the same time I do the breakfast ones, I store it in the fridge at work so I can have a shake and run if needed.  But just know, the probiotics in the shakes are best consumed within 10 minutes of initial mixing.

Personal Isagenix recipes: I don’t always stick to their recommendations… surprise, surprise!

If using a blender; add 1/2 banana to your shake no matter the flavor. It adds a little somthin’-somethin’ to the whole experience.  Add some ice to the blender to get a true milk shake effect.

I like to mixed my shakes using Milk, instead of water.  Gives a bit extra protein and smoothness.

Mix 1 scoop vanilla + 1 scoop chocolate to get a chocolate milk shake like flavor

Mix 1 scoop chocolate + 1 scoop Black Sesame  to get a dark chocolate (even slightly mocha) flavor.

Mix 1 scoop chocolate + 1 scoop of Berry to get a chocolate raspberry flavor

Mix 1 scoop Vanilla + 1 scoop Berry to get an earthy flavor (not super sweet…)

Take 1 berry snack with 1 vanilla snack to get an interesting creamy flavor burst in your mouth

My last recipe is the BOMB!  While taking your morning shower steep your shake WATER with 1 chai tea bag.  Once you are ready to mix, take out the tea bag and add 2 scoops of vanilla.  You have a VANILLA CHAI flavored shake.  Mmmmmmmnnnnnmmmm!

Lessons with Refined Pallet, Making Wood Beautiful

Over this last holiday weekend I was privileged to visit the studio of a fellow artisan.  I am going to introduce you to Jef (yes, it’s with one “f”) he is the proud owner of Refined Pallet, Making Wood Beautiful .  Around 10-15 years ago Jef started playing around in his garage, at the time he worked at a furniture supply store and had plentiful access to higher quality moving pallets.  He started his journey in woodworking  by making custom boxes; jewelry boxes, storage boxes, even traveling bar sets.  Over the years his boxes went from simple construction to dovetail joints with exotic wood inlays.  I really don’t know what inspired his venture into lathe work, but once he started turning wood, he started producing even more unique and amazing pieces of art work.  I know his first item made on a table lathe was a wooden chalice, Jef said he made it for a wine tasting party (I told him it was blasphemy to waste good wood on wine and needed to use it for Mead sampling… he just smirked).  What inspired him to make pens, razors, and tablet stylus?  Seriously I think it’s his obsession with Harry Potter… he started making wands, and that’s what did him in.

So when I had elbowed my way into the garage to get a tour of his studio, I managed to talk him into showing me the ropes on a custom piece for my Husband.

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Of course I had to my camera with me… Now many of you who personally know, or *gasp* live with an artist, knows that any space becomes a studio.  And honestly it is amazing what comes out of this small space.

The first thing I had to do was select what exactly I was going to make, so we started at the center front desk going through all the hardware Jef has collected through out the years.  I chose to make my hubby a double edge safety razor.  For those of you who don’t know what a safety razor is, here is a link.  Next I needed to choose a wood.  This was the hard part, and honestly his stash was to extensive to get in one photograph.  He had everything from marbled acrylics to black palm.  These woods were amazing, but I knew my husband would like a wood with lots of grain to it, so I chose a bocote blank.

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After the initial stages of cutting the wood down to a relative rectangle, I had to draft out the shape I wanted in my head.  Now I will be honest with you, I have never been an artist that can think spatially.  I have always had an issue with 3-D sculpture, and when I looked at the wood in postition on the lathe I was very intimidated.  I did not want to waste this beautiful piece of wood!!!  We looked through Jef’s stock of finished razors to give me a goal to shoot for.  I knew I wanted to give the handle some curves, beautiful shape, not only to help bring out the textures in the wood but also to assist in a good grip.  After all this was going to be a sharp razor against my beloved’s neck.

I decided to make the razor  handle follow the feminine form, or the more “PC” term would be… I wanted to make it look like a voluptuous mummy.

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But first, I had to master the tools to make the handle round!  I asked Jef at this point how long it takes him to make one razor handle… start to finish.  He nonchalantly stated 20 min.  GAH!  20 minutes! In that amount of time I was still trying to get the rectangle to have round edges.   Jef even had to resharpen his large turning tool for me.

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FINALLY!  I was starting to get a round shape to my “mummy”  Now I got to move onto the smaller turning tool, allowing for greater ease of movement and design.  The entire time Jef was patiently coaching me through, reminding me to keep the tool positioned “just so”.

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He even managed to snap some shots with out my notice… the best part is my camera was set to full Manual mode, and he managed some great snapshots (see Jef you can take photos not in auto mode!)  You can see in this set up how small his work space really is, yet if you take a stop by his facebook page you can see the diversity of his work.

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Okay I will admit it, he took over on some of the more delicate parts.  But you can see the “mummy” started RIGHT?

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After about 1 hour of shaving millimeter by millimeter off, I was finally happy with the shape.  I was proud that there were not large discrepancies or gouges in the beautiful wood.  Now Jef walked me through the finishing stages.  There are so many finishing steps, from applying 15-20 layers of Acrylic to sanding through an ump-teen amount of grit.  I thought the coolest stage was buffing the finished product with the self-same wood shavings I had so diligently piled up under the lathe.

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Isn’t my “mummy” BEAUTIFUL?  Now comes the really fun part. Adding the double edge safety head to the handle.  But before that one last picture of just the handle…

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Look at that shine and grain.  Hipnotizing.

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First things first, Jef made sure that the hardware fit flush. Then onto the final stage of placing the sealing epoxy to make sure the head and handle become one.

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1.5 hours of handwork, and the steady yet patient coaching of Jef made this piece possible.  I could see why Jef likes to loose himself in making so many wonderful items.  There was something so soothing, and almost meditative about watching the wood shape under my hands.  Not knowing what it would truly look like in the end, the surprise at the very end once everything was joined.   It made me want to get back on the lathe and see what the next piece would look like, how it would turn out, and what it would become. Wood working is almost as seductive as pottery… almost.

I do want to thank Jef for a wonderful experience in his little studio. It was a pleasure to learn about a new craft, and I can say my appreciation of what he does daily has multiplied exponentially.  I hope all of you who took the time to read this have enjoyed the steps we went through, and if you want to learn more or see more please follow these links to Jef’s shop(s) and facebook fan pages.  If you get a chance tell him Ursula sent you.

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<——-  can you believe this

 

turned into this  ? ————->

 

 

Refined Pallet, Making Wood Beautiful ETSY STORE

Refined Pallet, Making Wood Beautiful FAN PAGE

Refined Pallet, Hollow Book Safes  (his other hobby)

 

 

How did you do that?

I love to share knowledge, give out little hints and tips to those who ask.  Recently I have had multiple emails asking how do I make all my up cycled items look amazingly new?

Up cycled clothing, items, and toys are a joy to make and a perfect addition to any household.  Contrary to popular belief, they do not need to look used, worn out, have holes, or stains to be up cycled     The point of up cycling is to give used items new life, not just reuse them.

First step:  Find some thing YOU LIKE, that draws your eye.  If you don’t like it why would anyone else?

Second step:  clean it, wash it, dry it, repair it (is there bead work that’s loose? fix it)

Third step: when possible cut along side the seams to get flat pieces of fabric.  If you cut along the seams this gives the edges of the fabric a smooth, unpuckered edge.  All industrial sewing machines cause visible needle holes in the fabric… not attractive.

If you are reconstructing an item using most of the original seams, such as jeans into a jean skirt, this is a good time to use a seam ripper instead of cutting the fabric. Just sew along the original seam holes when possible.

When reusing lace, avoid ripping the seam.  Just cut the fabric that it is attached to as close to the lace as possible.  If it is a large piece of lace (an adult bodice for example), try to use it as a full flat piece work with the existing seams instead of reinventing the wheel.

Fourth step: IRON YOUR FABRIC.  This step does two things for you; first it gives you a smooth field to work with and secondly it tells you if the former owner smoked.  No matter how many times you wash it, if you add heat to the fabric the smell of cigarette smoke will always be present.  If you are marketing your item as *smoke free*, this is a very important step.

Fifth step: when ever possible work your pattern pieces to exclude holes or worn spots in the fabric…. just turn those parts into rags.

Sixth and the most important, least known step:  Starch. Simple. As. That.

Either before or after you construct an item using your up cycled fabric, starch it.  (1 part clothing starch to approximately 5 parts water)  No biggie.  Use a fine spray and iron dry.  This helps the fabric hold it’s smoothness through shipping and wearing.

Now If you don’t want to use starch (allergies, or for newborns), use vinegar water when ironing.  The vinegar smell goes away as soon as the water has evaporated while ironing.

Viola, that’s how I do it.   The picture below is of the latest set of adult wings I have constructed, on the right hand side over-lapping the rows is the description of what each layer is.  Do they look up cycled to you? Or just plain beautiful?

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Parts of a wing

Upcyled, recycled, brand spankin' new wings.

Bringing Handmade back into chic!

Ba hum bug.  It was August 30 when I saw the first Christmas decorations being stocked in the stores!  Labor day bar-b-ques had not even been lit, let alone their labors been digested.  The consumerism in the winter holiday season has just become ridiculous and unfortunately taking the magic out of the season.  I LOVE fall.  I LOVE harvest, pumpkins, apple cider, chilly evenings, the passing of mosquitoes, frost, costumes, CANDY, and enjoying family.  This is all being drowned out by that which is around us.

I understand there are a couple things that need to be done really early for the winter holiday season.  I mean you can’t take pictures for holiday cards on December 5th and have them sent out in time… hello!  I am not crazy. Also unless you are INSANE you probably can’t quilt an entire blanket in a couple days either.  There are things that take time… but buying ornaments, trees, or tinsel in August? Really?

Okay, so now off my soap box.  I know there are many of you out there who are in agreement.   But as I was walking through a local big-box store today, I was inspired:  my goal for this upcoming holiday season; is Once a week (atleast) I will share an awesome Homemade project that would help make some wonderful and thoughtful gifts.

The economy is slowly starting to turn around (it is really!!! look at the non-syndicated numbers!), ever so slowly, AND you have a choice where your hard earned money goes!  All I ask is that you be conscious of where your money is truly going ~ whether you buy local, support small business, or standard industry.  Just be informed.

The first homemade project that I am passing on, this is truly a fun one and you have plenty of time to make different versions.  How many of you have a loved one with an American Girl Doll?  Here is a FREE tutorial on how to make her some clothes!!!  http://www.libertyjanepatterns.com/2011/04/free-american-girl-doll-dress-pattern.html

Happy projects, and even merrier gifting!

MUAH

Ursula

A continuation of mini-top hats and other fascinators

I love hair accessories, I always have.  Unfortunately up until recently I had always worn my hair short or slightly past short.  It was practical, easy to care for, easy to style, and the biggest factor was my hair just did not grow long.  Though with the shorter styles all I had to do was wash and go, being blessed with slight body and interesting coloring, it was easy-peasy.  During my pregnancy my hair grew, fast and thick, not uncommon for a gestating woman.  But it was incredibly uncommon for my hair to actually grow past my shoulders.  You see, no matter how I tried, no matter how long I waited, my hair would never go past my shoulders… it just stopped at that length.  It has been two years since the birth of my daughter, and I have only trimmed my hair twice.   It has managed to make it just level with my shoulder blades.   I don’t expect much more length, but that is fine. It is the perfect length for adornment!

Mini-top hats have come back with a vengeance, helped in part by the interest in Steampunk.    But, luckily, most people who take part in Steampunk are also incredibly intelligent and love to learn.  So not surprising mini-top hats are just one facet to all the fun hair accessories finding a revival.   A while back I posted a tutorial on how to make fun little mini-top hats, actually that tutorial comprises 70% of the hits on my site.

I love the fact that so many people have seen it, and many have implemented the techniques.  I have written this fun little post to encourage divergence and imagination.  Take what you learn from that fun little tutorial and transform it into something new and exciting!

Facinators can take many forms, from a flat round base decorated with feathers to a fun embroidery headband.  Heck I even have the sweetest crochet octopus with fun googly eyes.  You can even make them into mini-sculptures.  Let your imagination run, and find fun materials to make them with!

Recently I have been having some fun, and I just wanted to share some inspiration with you.  This amazing pillbox hat, has a unique design.  you would think it’s just the mini-top hat shortened with out a brim.  If you made it that way you would end up with a fez.  What makes this design sit perfectly round on top of the head?  It is an oval.  Simple as that, a human’s head is not round. It is misshapen, oblong, oval, and protruding.  The secret to a well fitting hat: expect the unexpected!

Now, onto some less structured inspiration.  Facinators do not have to stick out of the head. They do not need to provide shade or protection.  Their main function is to keep hair in place… either helping the hair to frame the face, or to pull it out of the way.  So to make this most utilitarian of functions more pleasurable we can add a bunch of sparkle and pizzazz.    Here is a fun example of a simple facinator adhered to a metal headband.

Simple, elegant, and incredibly useful!  Again making this fascinator uses the same basic steps as outlined in my tutorial.  There is a buckram base to help with stiffening the glitter fabric (yes. FABRIC not glitter foam from walmart), and giving a great base to build on.  Another example of a flat fascinator, but this time it is attached to a hair comb instead:

This piece has a couple layers to give it’s unique shape. Underneath the glitter fabric, but right above the buckram base is a couple lines of millinery wire. Strong , flexible, and yet incredibly resilient material.  This wire can be gently formed and re-formed without breaking.  It will hold any shape, for as long as it’s allowed.   And it is resistant to corroding.   Granted if you want to frame large top-hats or Bowlers, you will need to invest in some basic crimping tools. But for simple facinators, a sturdy wire cutter is sufficient.

I hope that these pieces can give you some inspiration in your projects!  The age of elegance is sorely needing a comeback.  Bring personality and style back into the world.  Just because everyone else has a certain piece, does not mean you have to have it too, join me in standing out in the crowd!  I’d love to see what everyone is up to.  Please feel free to post links to your projects below, find me on pinterest, or stop by my facebook page and drop a line.   Happy crafting!

Life time Student

My extended family is one of Life time students.  Going back to school, for any reason, has always been encouraged and supported.  Whether it was for a higher education degree or to just learn a fun new hobby.   Education was the best gift you can ever give yourself.  But taking classes and learning new skills does not necessarily mean needing to enroll at the nearest community college or University.  In every community there are hundreds of continuing education classes and programs offered by individual artisans and business owners.

In my quest to learn something new (and to cross it off my New years resolutions list!) I started taking photography classes.  Not because I want to become some world famous photographer, but because I wanted to take awesome pictures of my daughter playing at the park.  I was always a little disappointed with all my photos, it seemed that I was a pro at missing  “that perfect moment”… and just came away with a the back of a head, a blur, or worse a clip of a hand towards the side of the frame.  Putting together scrap books on Snapfish.com was disheartening.

sample pre-class photo. Still super cute… but not one to brag about.

Luckily a local photographer, and friend of mine, Amanda Star was putting together a fun year long class that she named Momtography.  This class is not designed for the budding professional photographer; but the mom on the sidelines of the game, in the audience of a dance recital, or just hanging around in the yard with a sprinkler.  This setting has made the whole experience a calm and comfortable one.  There are no silly questions, everyone there is happy to help work through problems, and we enjoy learning from each other.

Look it’s in focus! Centered! Great lighting! and it’s her FACE as I see it. First photo’s after the first class!

February 2012 marked the first class, and I decided to put together a fun little comparison of my photography skills pre-and-post.  Amanda started out the year by going through all the preset features in our wonderful point-and-click cameras.  We learned what each one was designed for, and how to incorporate them into everyday photos.  The best thing I learned:  do not feel silly taking “too”  many pictures.  The more you take the better! (Besides, there is a delete button for those you really don’t want seen.)

Full manual, you can even see the droplettes! It was fine as long as LJ was not moving

The second class she forced us all out of our comfort zone and turned the dial to MANUAL mode… yep full manual. Surprise: It was not as bad as I would have thought.  It has become my preferred shooting technique.

Since then everything has been a blast, from learning camera “tricks” to lighting to “Photoshop Elements”.  I am now posting, printing, and sharing pictures left and right.  The best part there are still 6 more classes!   Not only have I learned so much about photography, and how to use my camera.  All the extra research that I have done for the class has lead me down some wonderful venues that I can use in everyday life.

Learning composition, in an indoor setting, on manual

Picture on the move, can you believe that this was taken right after dusk?

Each time I pull out my camera I make sure to take way more pictures than I ever need, I try to do each of the techniques Amanda reviewed, and then sit back with a critical eye and wonder how I can make each shot better.  I have even been able to implement all these techniques into the photography used in my Sales listings, merging professional with personal.

I look forward to seeing the progression come January!  Now what will the next 6 classes bring?