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Saturday, December 25, 2010

A Christmas Prayer

Photo courtesy of New Line Cinema - The Nativity Story.
"O God our loving Father, help us rightly to remember the birth of Jesus, that we may share in the song of the angels, the gladness of the shepherds, and the worship of the wise men. May Christmas morning make us happy to be Thy children and Christmas evening bring us to our beds with grateful thoughts, forgiving and forgiven, for Jesus’ sake, amen."—Robert Louis Stevenson

Tuesday, December 07, 2010

Teatime Tuesday - Want to go for a spin?

Photo courtesy of Disney's website.

I've professed before on this blog, of my love for all things Disney and all things Alice, so of course, I love it when those two things intersect. Take for example, the tea cup ride at Disneyland.

Disney's Alice in Wonderland animated film premiered in July 28th, 1951. The Mad Hatter's Tea Party attraction opened a few years later on June 17th, 1958. The ride is located in Fantasyland and is inspired by the "unbirthday" celebration sequence in the film with the Mad Hatter and the March Hare throwing a crazy tea party. The ride control house looks like Rabbit's house from the film. There are colorful Japanese lanterns strung over the tea party, along with lots of plants and real flowers, as well as large metal flowers that all add to the garden party feel or setting of the ride. The ride is whimsical and fun, and I think the art design of the ride really captures the spirit of the tea party in the film.

There are 18 brightly colored giant tea cups to chose from and they spin on three different revolving platters which are all mounted on one larger turntable. You control how fast your tea cup spins by rotating the wheel in the center of your teacup. That's a whole lot of twisting, spinning, madness!

If you ever get a chance to visit - then make note that the orange diamond-decorated cup is the fastest spinner, along with the purple cup. If you'd rather take a leisurely spin through the tea party, then try to get one of the two heart cups, which are the slowest. It's better to ride this attraction earlier in the day, because the lines and wait times are longer when it gets later into the day. However, my favorite time to ride the tea cups is at night, because the lighting is just beautiful. The Japanese lanterns are lit with a wonderful glow and the large metal flowers also serve as lamps, with lights in the blossoms. It really does add another magical level to the experience.

Below is a fun video of the ride, taken from inside one of the tea cups. I hear that song and I can't help but smile. :-) A very merry unbirthday to you! :-)

Have you ever taken a spin on the tea cups? Or do you avoid rides like this because of motion sickness? What's your favorite ride at Disneyland? Leave me a comment and let me know.

Monday, December 06, 2010

Musical Interlude - Zooey Deschanel

It's that time of year again, when the Valley of the Sun pretends to experience winter weather, the streets are filled with stressed-out crazed drivers anxious to get all their shopping done, my neighbors beat me yet again at getting the outside Christmas lights up, and my weekly musical interludes turn to Christmas music.

I don't remember much about the movie Elf, except that it was cute and funny. I also remember being impressed with Zooey Deschanel's singing.  Below is a link to her singing, "Baby, It's Cold Outside" in the film.  It turns out that in addition to being an actress, Zooey has her own folk/indie band called She & Him and she writes her own songs.  I definitely recommend you check out some of their stuff. (I love this one song in particular.) She has a voice that is perfectly suited to an old fashioned way of singing. I just love the quality and color of her voice.  I hope you like her too.

Tuesday, November 30, 2010

Tea and Sympathy

For our Teatime Tuesday, here's one of my favorite songs, that just happens to be about tea. Well, it's not about tea, but it uses tea for the metaphor. For added enjoyment, why not brew yourself a cup, then take in the song. At this time of night, it will have to be Sleepytime or Camomile for me. Enjoy!



Tea and Sympathy
by Jars of Clay
Fare thee well
Trade in all our words for tea and sympathy
Wonder why we tried, for things that could never be
Play our hearts lament, like an unrehearsed symphony
Not intend
To leave this castle full of empty rooms
Our love the captive in the tower never rescued
And all the victory songs
Seem to be playing out of tune
But it's not the way
That it has to be
Don't trade our love for tea and sympathy
'Cause it's not the way
That it has to be
You begin
And all your words fall to the floor and break like china cups
And the waitress grabs a broom and tries to sweep them up
I reach for my tea and slowly drink in
[Chorus:]
'Cause it's not the way
That it has to be
Don't trade our love for tea and sympathy
'Cause it's not the way
That it has to be
Don't trade our love for tea and sympathy
So fare thee well
Words the bag of leaves that fill my head
I could taste the bitterness and call the waitress instead
She holds the answer, smiles and asks one teaspoon or two
[Chorus x 2]
Don't trade us for tea and sympathy
Don't trade us for tea and Sympathy
We can work it out
Don't trade us for tea and Sympathy
Don't trade us for tea and Sympathy
We can work it out
Don't trade us for tea and Sympathy
We can work it out

Monday, November 29, 2010

Musical Interlude - Pretty Reckless

I'd never heard of The Pretty Reckless, until a friend forwarded this video to me, of the band playing their song "Make Me Wanna Die" on the Late Night Show.  I also don't know who Taylor Momsen is, outside of being the lead singer of this band, and you know what, I don't really care, because this song rocks, and she has one of those rare things - a female voice that is completely suited to sing rock and roll.

Driving guitars? Check.
Rockin' lead singer? Check.
Creepy organ music? Double-check.
Yes, please may I have some more?

This will get your blood pumping on a Monday morning. Enjoy!  (Not ready for something loud like this? Try this haunting acoustic song instead.  I'm just as much in love with it as I am this song.)

Saturday, November 27, 2010

Book Bite - What's in the box?

"Quentin Fears never told his parents the last thing his sister Lizzy said to him before they pulled the plug on her and let her die."
~ first line of Treasure Box by Orson Scott Card

Isn't that one of the best opening lines you've ever read? Doesn't it make you want to know more about that boy, with the last name of Fears, and why his sister Lizzie died? What did she say to him before she died? Why did her parents let her die? And what, exactly, is the treasure box that the title refers to?

A fellow book-loving friend of mine recommended this book to me, and he has never steered me wrong with one of his recommendations, so I ordered it from Paperback Swap. A few days later, my husband and I were leaving the house to go to a party and we checked our mailbox on the way out. This book had arrived. I opened it in the car and flipped to the front, just scanning it over out of curiosity, since my friend hadn't told me anything specific about it. Next thing I knew, a half-hour had passed, we'd arrived at our destination and my husband was telling me I had to get out of the car. I'd gotten completely sucked into the book and had read it for the entire car ride. I didn't want to go in to the party. I seriously wanted to stay in the car and read. It was that good.

I have a thing for opening lines. If an author can't capture my attention in the first sentence, or the first paragraph, then there's not much hope of me enjoying the journey, or finishing the book for that matter. It's not a hard and fast rule or anything, just something I've noticed after all my years of reading. Not only did this book open in an interesting place, but it has one of the best closing passages I've ever read. Beautifully written, deeply satisfying, poetic and hopeful; when I got to the end I read it over and over at least three times. Then, a couple of days later, when I walked by and saw it sitting on the table, I picked it up and read it again, just to enjoy that moment all over again. An opening sentence and a closing verse do not a successful novel make, however, I'm pleased to report that the bits in between delivered on all the promises made in the opening lines, and then some.

If you've ever heard of the author Orson Scott Card, it is probably from his book, Ender's Game, which if you haven't read yet, then turn off the computer and get yourself to a library or bookstore right now. It is a sci-fi classic. Simply wonderful. That was the only book I'd read of Card's, so I assumed Treasure Box was going to be another sci-fi book, set in the future in outer space. On the contrary, this book is set in modern times, in regular old everyday America. It follows a boy named Quentin Fears, as he mourns his sister's death. He grows up to be a very successful millionaire computer entrepreneur while at the same time being very socially awkward and reclusive, untrusting and unwilling to open himself to love anyone, for fear of losing them like he lost his sister. Then he meets Madeline at a posh party in Washington D.C., someone who is also hiding the hurts of her childhood and a mysterious past.

Halfway through the book, things start turning slightly to the left and even then you, like the main character, accept the explanations for the odd happenings because, no one believes in ghosts, right? And so far the majority of the book has been grounded in reality, so it puts you as a reader in the same disbelieving position of the main character. Card has an absolutely amazing and enviable skill at foreshadowing. He is so deft and so subtle, you don't notice it until the final act, when you look back and see the answers were there all the long. He is a genius at story structure and execution as well as writing engaging, clever dialog. The story slowly builds to a powerhouse of a final scene, but the strong development of the characters and their motivations, as well as the layers of the mystery, are what keep you hanging on for the ride.

You'll notice I mentioned ghosts. Please note that this is not a ghost story or a horror novel, in the traditional sense, but the supernatural does play a significant role. It was refreshing to read a novel where good and evil were firmly defined and put in their proper places (instead of having the evil monster be the hunky hero - Twilight, I'm looking at you). Additionally, it was nice to read an excellent novel that didn't contain anything gratuitous within (i.e. language, violence, sex).

I want so desperately to recommend this book to you, Gentle Readers, and to write a review that makes you want to read it, but I also don't want to ruin the adventure for you, so that's why some of my descriptions of the book may seem vague. I now see the challenge most book and movie reviewers have in writing spoiler-free reviews!

If you happen to give Treasure Box a chance, please be sure to come back and leave me a comment and let me know what you thought of it. Or if you have a good book recommendation, please leave it in the comments. I'm always looking for the next great adventure!

Wednesday, November 24, 2010

An Itty Bitty Doodle

This was a little doodle I did at work, while I was on the phone with someone. I'm posting him here, because someone stopped by my desk and remarked that he was cute. I thought about it; he's simple, he's little and, yeah, he's kind of cute. So, up on the blog he went (instead of up on the rooftop. Ha!). You can tell it's on the edge of an e-mail that I had printed out, and I find that kind of funny; here's a fun, swirly artistic flourish juxtaposed next to dull corporate business.

I doodle a lot, especially when I'm on the phone, usually on hold. I'd never thought much about my doodles, but this is the third time recently that someone has commented on how cool they were.  I always just saw them as scribbles, but now maybe I'll give them a second look, and see if there's any inspiration hidden within them for bigger more detailed illustrations or works.  I kept a lot of my notebooks from school, not for the notes, but for all the doodles I did in the margins. It might be fun to go back and revisit those as well.


This little reindeer is ready for Christmas. How about you?  Here's my reader question for the evening - what's your opinion of the stores setting out their Christmas decorations so early in November, or even sometimes at the end of October?  Does it wear you out on Christmas cheer long before the actual day arrives? Or do you enjoy the decorations and music for as long as it lasts? Leave me a comment and let me know.

Tuesday, November 23, 2010

Teatime Tuesday - Brewing for the Guests

We never had hot tea in my house growing up. Both my parents were originally from the Midwest so if we had tea at all, it was iced tea or sun tea.  They both loved coffee though, especially my dad.

My dad didn't like to travel or go gallivanting around much.  His home was his castle and there was nothing he enjoyed more than being at home with his family, building us kids a sandbox in the backyard, tending to our citrus trees or our rose bushes, working on cars in the garage, or reading a good book.  What he really enjoyed most of all, was hosting people at our house for an evening for dinner.  My mom enjoyed this too, so they were a good match.  Mom would make a fabulous meal and then, as the dishes were cleared, the spotlight was on my dad, as he pulled out his selection of after-dinner coffees.

My dad researched different coffees and growing regions. When someone was traveling, especially out of the country, he'd give them money to bring back coffee.  He had Kona coffee from Hawaii, Arabic coffee from Morocco, and more.  He preferred to grind his own beans, immediately before brewing, and had both an electric grinder and a hand-crank coffee grinder, with a little drawer you'd pull out to get to the ground coffee. I guess you could say he was a coffee connoisseur.  He enjoyed picking the perfect coffee to compliment dessert, or to cater to the specific tastes of his guests.

He used to tell me that all Swedes put lots of milk in their coffee, to keep their hair blond (since that was the color of the coffee by the time they got done) and lots of sugar too, to keep them sweet.  My dad was fun like that.  I actually believed it, as a kid, and asked him one time if I was going to have to start drinking coffee too, since we were Swedish, and if that was what I was going to have to do to keep my hair blond. We didn't know the "fine art of serving tea" but we knew about coffee.

As Thanksgiving approaches, I was thinking back to all the people my parents would invite into our home for the turkey day meal - all the single people from church, or people who didn't have family in state, or friends and their kids - and how the ritual of coffee after the big meal, with a slice of pie for dessert, was never missed.

I don't know much about coffee and don't drink it, but I hope I can be just as knowledgeable with my tea, and that I can learn to be a better hostess, and maybe even invite people into my house for the occasional meal so I can serve them, and make them feel special, the way my dad did with his coffee.

The only problem is... I have to learn to cook something presentable first.  I can't just offer them tea...
P.S. This post is supposed to have nifty pictures of a coffee grinder and some fall-themed tea pots, but for some reason Blogger isn't letting me upload photos tonight. I'll try again in the morning.

P.P.S. I'm so thankful for happy memories, and for the good example I had in my parents.

***UPDATE 11/24/10 Pictures have been added.***

I'm not typically one who likes to collect decorative tea pots just for the sake of collecting. I have enough nicknacks to dust as it is.  However, it might be nice to have one functional, seasonal teapot to use for the Thanksgiving dinner.  Below are a few examples of fall-themed teapots that I might like to own and use, especially the "Gather Together" one. 

All teapots available at The English Tea Store. Just click on the picture to go to the site.




Monday, November 22, 2010

Musical Interlude - Depeche Mode

I had wanted all my posts this week to be related to the theme of thankfulness and gratitude, since we're celebrating the Thanksgiving holiday, but I must admit, I'm just not feeling it tonight. I'll be honest with you, Gentle Readers, I did not have a good day today. Which, in retrospect, makes me feel terrible that I even feel terrible about it, because even one of my worse days is nothing compared to what horrible things could happen out in this broken world. In fact, I've had much worse days than this one. I should know better.

I have my health, my husband, my friends, and I came home to a house with a roof over my head and food in my pantry. And as much as I hated my workplace today, I do have a job and a paycheck - something that many people in this country and in this economy are desperate to have.

I could go on and on and on about all the blessings and luxuries I have, and I do really truly appreciate them, but tonight, I'm just tired and I want to go home. Even though I am technically at home, this place has never felt like home to me. And part of the Thanksgiving holiday seems to be about people returning home and being with family. Home, is where your family is (or your heart is), I suppose. And part of my family is in heaven. It is a separation that you never get used to.

I could have easily linked to this song, but I decided to link to Depeche Mode instead. It's a blast from the past, but it's a beautiful, haunting, heartfelt song, and one that I was completely addicted to when I first got my hands on the Ultra album when it was released. Unfortunately, this was the best version of it I could find on You Tube. Even with the poor recording quality, I think Martin Gore's awesome voice still shines through.

What "home" do you think they're singing about? Leave me a comment and let me know.






Home
by Depeche Mode

Here is a song
from the wrong side of town
where I'm bound
to the ground
by the loneliest sound
that pounds from within
and is pinning me down
here is a page
from the emptiest stage
a cage or the heaviest cross ever made
a gauge of the deadliest trap ever laid
And I thank you
for bringing me here
for showing me home
for singing these tears
finally I've found
that I belong here
The heat and the sickliest
sweet smelling sheets
that cling to the backs of my knees
and my feet
I'm drowning in time
to a desperate beat
And I thank you
for bringing me here
for showing me home
for singing these tears
finally I've found
that I belong
Feels like home
I should have known
from my first breath
God send the only true friend
I call mine
Pretend that I'll
Make amends the next time
And befriend the glorious end of the line.

Tuesday, November 16, 2010

Teatime Tuesday - Winter Dream

It seems like tea and coffee gift packs or gift baskets are a popular gift item around the holidays, especially when people find out you're a tea or coffee junkie. Most of the time, those baskets contain some of the most overly-processed, forgettable, tasteless, bitter teas ever to be packaged. I'm speaking from experience here. However, last year I was gifted with a box of assorted teas from the Coffee Bean & Tea Leaf, and it was an entirely different experience.

There is a Coffee Bean & Tea Leaf coffee shop very close to where I live, but since I make most of my tea at home, I'd never had tea from one of these coffee shops before. All the teas in the box were wonderful in taste and were presented in nice silk tea bags, but one stood out from the rest - Winter Dream Tea.

This tea was, hands down, amazing and very aptly named - it is a dream! According to the website, it is a "blend of Ceylon black tea and South African rooiboos, with traditional sweet mulling spices." Call it what you will, I call it "YUM!" It was like actually drinking Christmas straight out of a mug. I hoarded this tea and rationed it out to myself as a very special treat, trying to make it last as long as I possibly could. It was a futile effort, and very soon I was completely out. So I jumped in the car and drove to the Coffee Bean, only to discover they were sold out. I figured, "No problem, they'll have more in stock in a couple of days." Oh no, no no. This is a seasonal blend that they only offer around the holidays, and they were done stocking it for that season. I almost cried right there in the store. Suffice it to say, I'm going to take out a small loan this year and buy up as many tins as I possibly can. Yes, it really is that good.

Oh, and if you're looking for a gift to put under the tree for little ol' me, then look no further. A tin of this tea would make me so very happy! (Hint, hint, dear hubby.)

Monday, November 15, 2010

The Soundtrack In My Head

I'm sure you all can relate, Gentle Readers, to hearing a song on the radio that you haven't heard in years, and having it instantly transport you back to a time in your life when you first heard that song. Maybe it was a song that was all over the airwaves that summer, when you spent every waking minute at the pool or the beach.  Maybe it was the song they played at your high school dance.  Maybe it was just you, alone in your room, enveloped by the sound. I love music, and I love those moments and the memories it creates.  Who says time travel is impossible?

For me, not only can music be a reminder of fond memories and different times and places in my life, but some music really resonates with me. Like a tuning fork humming in sympathetic harmony, I can hear certain music and it's as if my spine hums; it resonates with my core being and feels right. Some of my most favorite musicians are the ones whose music takes me to that imaginary world in my mind. It's as if they've crawled inside my head and written a soundtrack for my thoughts and dreams and when I listen to their music, I feel like I’m home. Queensryche is one of those bands.

I remember where I was when I heard Queensryche for the first time.  A friend of mine kept telling me about this new band and insisted I listen to them. He made me a copy of the album, Empire, and I went home and popped it in, curious to see what had him all wound up.  I can still remember sitting on the floor in my room in front of my stereo and listening, spellbound, as that musical door opened up, and I felt like I was home. The soaring vocals and harmonies,the intelligent well-crafted lyrics, the intricate guitar-playing, the dark, layered, complex compositions, the hints of classical music and orchestration - this was not the heavy metal I knew, but a new subgenre called progressive metal, and I was hooked.  Queensryche's songs also told stories. Stories that, in a way, felt like they'd walked right out of my own head.  Not that I fancy myself a lyric writer or musician. Far from it.  But these stories resonated with me, and reflected back to me how I saw life.  (Oh yeah, and they rocked too.)

I must admit, I probably knew my then-boyfriend (now-husband) was "the one" when the new Queensryche album came out a few years later. We went out and bought it as soon as it came out, went back to his apartment, sat down in front of his stereo and listened to it from beginning to end.  Most of my friends drove me nuts, when I wanted them to listen to some new musical find of mine, they'd want to chitchat and visit while the music played on in the background, while all I wanted was for them to shut up and listen to the magic that was coming out of the speakers. That was not the case here.  When my future husband and I sat down to listen to that album, we took it all in, volume cranked high, sitting side by side, not saying a single word.

Turns out he was from my strange little world too, and my heart resonated with that, just like it did with the music.

Anybody Listening?
by Queensryche
 
You and I
long to live like the wind upon the water.
If we close our eyes, we'll maybe realize
there's more to life than what we have known.
And I can't believe I've spent so long
living lies I knew were wrong inside,
I've just begun to see the light.

Long ago there was a dream,

had to make a choice or two.
Leaving all I loved behind,
for what nobody knew.
Stepped out on the stage of life
under lights and judging eyes.
Now the applause has died and I
can dream again...

Is there anybody listening?

Is there anyone that sees what's going on?
Read between the lines,
criticize the words they're selling.
Think for yourself and feel the walls
become sand beneath your feet

Feel the breeze?

Time's so near you can almost taste the freedom.
There's a warm wind from the south.
Hoist the sail and we'll be gone,
by morning this will all seem like a dream.
And if I don't return to sing the song,
maybe just as well.
I've seen the news and there's
not much I can do...alone

Is there anybody listening?

Is there anyone who smiles without a mask?
What's behind the words--images
they know will please us?
I'll take what's real. Bring up the lights.

Is there anybody listening?

Is there anyone that sees what's going on?
Read between the lines,
criticize the words they're selling.
Think for yourself and feel the walls...
become sand beneath your feet.

Thursday, November 11, 2010

On The FRINGE Between Two Worlds


Promotional image released by FOX Broadcasting Company.

It's been a while since I've written about my latest television obsession - FRINGE! I love this show more with each and every episode, and that's no exaggeration. It's not so much a replacement for LOST, since it's a very different kind of show as far as structure and subject matter, but there are other things that make it similar to LOST. It has a cast of characters that are complex, imperfect and engaging who are always growing, learning and changing. They are characters that I care about, root for and cry over. It has an inventive, creative plot, with twists of a forensics procedural combined with sci-fi creepiness. Each show has a problem or mystery that is solved within that one episode, but also ties into the larger over-reaching plotline. Each week, I am invariably on the edge of my seat, or so excited I'm yelling back at the TV.

Those of you who haven't seen the show yet, I suggest you try it out, but be sure to start from Season 1, Episode 1 and go from there. Give the characters (and the writers) time to settle into the show and really get their footing, and the whole thing just takes off and soars (about midway through the first season). For those of you who are watching, you can keep reading.

***BEWARE! HERE THERE BE SPOILERS***

I think Anna Torv should get and Emmy for her acting this season. She's playing two different characters, who in turn, are pretending to be someone else. How hard is that? And she's pulling it off beautifully. I always know who is on screen (even if it wasn't for the different hair color) and with just a glance, or the way she carries herself, you know what they are thinking. I've also been impressed with John Noble's (Walter) acting from the beginning of the show. His character could easily be played as a cliche - the mad scientist - but Noble gives him heart, and shows the frustrations and triumphs that come with being a brilliant genius, but also someone challenged with mental/psychological problems. I love it that they didn't make his relationship with Peter easy and straightforward, and didn't give them an easy resolution to their problems. In fact, some of their problems are still ongoing, and that's good. Life isn't so easily resolved in one 40-minute block of time.

If you weren't aware of it, there's a great website called Fringepedia that you simply must check out if you're a fan of the show. Did you know the images that appear before commercial breaks are actually glyphs in a code? Did you know the Observer appears in every episode? Did you know there are secret clues or references in the above picture? These things don't make the show what it is, but they certainly do add to the fun.

If you're watching, what do you think of the new season? Please leave me a comment and let me know. I'd love to discuss what's going on. You can also read my other thoughts about FRINGE here.

Wednesday, November 10, 2010

IF: Parable

About two months ago, I decided I would start participating in Illustration Friday (IF), as a way to start getting back to drawing and making art. I figured it would be a good little exercise, a way to knock the rust off my creative gears when it came to my art. My first IF assignment was for the word "dessert", which you can see here. The second week, the IF assignment posted was "parable." I love fairy tales, folk tales and parables so I didn't figure I'd have a problem coming up with an idea.

Then I promptly ran into a brick wall.

It wasn't writer's block, it was artist's block. It lasted throughout the week, and I missed the IF posting deadline. I still wanted to draw something for the assignment though, but the longer it went, the worse it got, and self-doubt crept in. When I decided to take on the IF assignments, I thought I might have difficulty making time to work on my art. I never anticipated simply not having the brain-power to come up with an idea to begin with. I've never experienced that before, when it comes to my visual art, and it was incredibly frustrating to me.  I gave up.

Then, weeks later, out of nowhere, an idea came to me while I was at work. I hadn't even been thinking about the assignment (like I said, I'd given up), but suddenly the fable of the tortoise and the hare popped into my head. I quickly sketched out the idea on a post-it note so I wouldn't forget - the tortoise with a blue first place ribbon stuck to his shell - thinking I would execute a full-blown piece of work based on the sketch later.  Turns out I like this little draft instead, so here it is below, complete with yellow post-it note background.

I find it ironic that, after being stuck, discouraged, and giving up - the image that finally came to mind was the tortoise. Ah, the irony wasn't lost on me. Here I was, with my new endeavor (i.e. drawing again, and completing the IF assignments) starting out at a snail's pace, if not almost a complete failure.  Well, I'll try to remember now that slow and steady wins the race.  I've taken a lesson from this picture and will try to listen to myself. I've lowered my expectations. Maybe I can't do the IF assignment every week.  Maybe I'll only do one drawing a month.  I just need to be happy in whatever I can find time to do, not put as much pressure on myself, and show myself a little grace. It's a start...

Tuesday, November 09, 2010

Teatime Tuesday

Image taken from Walt Disney's Alice in Wonderland.
If you've been reading this blog for any period of time, then you probably know of my love for all things Alice in Wonderland, which is the inspiration for the title and tagline for this blog. There's actually more than one reason that I picked "Storm in a Teacup" for a blog (more on that later) but one of the reasons is that I love hot tea. I'm pretty sure I must have been British in my previous life (not that I believe in previous lives, mind you). So I thought I'd start writing "Teatime Tuesday" posts, and share anything and everything about the wonderful art of "taking tea".

Another thing you probably already know about me from reading my blog, is my love for all things Disney. Today, two of my favorite things combine - tea and Disney. I'm in my happy place.

Found on Amazon.com.

Found at the Disney Store.
One of my dear friends brought me back some Alice in Wonderland tea from her last trip to Disneyland, along with this cute Mickey Mouse tea ball/tea diffuser. Isn't it adorable? She brought me a tin of the Mad Tea Party blend. It has fruity, ginger, peach and apricot notes and is definitely a desert tea. It was so yummy, that when I took my trip to Disneyland in October, I purchased a tin of the Un-Birthday Tea blend. It is a black tea similar to English Breakfast. The tea is of really good quality and the Mad Hatter's crazy tea making instructions on the tin are pretty funny. Leave it to Disney to have excellent quality tea and awesome packaging, with no detail left untouched by Disney magic.

Found at the Disney Store.
When I went to pull up pictures of these wonderful finds on the internet, I came across some other Disney - tea items that I might have to put on my wish list. For example, check out this Alice in Wonderland tea press. I've used tea presses before in fancy restaurants and cafes, but have never owned one. They certainly do make a good cup of tea, and having one with Alice in Wonderland silhouettes cut into it would just make me smile.

But what if you want to make a lot of tea? Why not use this adorable Mickey Mouse tea kettle? For as much as I love Disney, I'm not the type to have my house covered in all kinds of Disney swag (believe it or not) but seriously, how could you not smile with this sitting on your stove?

Found at the Disney Store.

I'm going to make myself a cup of tea - probably Sleepytime, since I'm posting this at 11:30 PM - but while I'm gone, leave me a comment and let me know what you think. Do you "take tea"? What's your favorite way to have it?

P.S. If your name is Shawn and you're reading this, consider this post a big hint for "good gift ideas" for the wife for Christmas. (wink) Love you!

Sunday, November 07, 2010

Musical Interlude - My Chemical Romance

Band photo courtesy of My Chemical Romance's facebook page.
I had already planned to post on My Chemical Romance for today's musical interlude. I've been wanting to write about them again for a while now. Ironically, when I looked back on my blog posts, exactly one year ago today, is when I came clean on this blog, declaring my absolute love for the band. Why did I want to write about them again? Well, other than the fact they are probably one of my all-time, top five favorite bands, I'm counting the hours until the new My Chemical Romance album, Danger Days: True Lives of the Fabulous Killjoys is released on November 22nd. It's been four, count them, four years since their last album release and I'd almost given up hope on hearing new music from them. I can hardly stand the wait, especially in these last two weeks.

Their first album, I Brought You My Bullets, You Brought Me Your Love, is pure punk rock, with a hint of things to come. The songs are very narrative and seem to follow two Bonnie and Clyde type characters who are eventually gunned down in the California desert, with vampires, zombies, clinical depression and 9/11 thrown in for good measure. I know that probably doesn't make you want to rush out and listen to it, but trust me, they make it all work. The album has a lot of energy and is very lose technically, but that makes sense, considering the band recorded the album shortly after they formed.

The band took a giant leap forward in musical growth with their second album, Three Cheers for Sweet Revenge. Their alt-rock-punk sound was more focused, their writing style tighter, more intense, and the songs are even more narrative in nature. Where Bullets hinted at a concept, Three Cheers is definitely a concept album. It's a New Jersey mafia version of the Romeo and Juliet story, combined with Orpheus and Eurydice. Romeo finds himself in purgatory, where he makes a deal with the devil, to be resurrected along with his dead Juliet, in exchange for the souls of a thousand evil men. He is then resurrected and sent out on his gruesome task. It's like a horror movie in musical form. It has a driving intensity and is beautiful, powerful, funny, romantic and dark. I am still in love with that album, which contains my favorite song, "Helena". (Also, one of the best videos ever, in my humble opinion.)

The band then reinvented themselves stylistically both with their image and their music, taking another huge jump forward in their musical growth. They got rid of their black, white and red mafia three-piece suits, bulletproof vests and goth makeup, and pulled on the black and gray marching band uniforms of The Black Parade. A pure rock opera, with sweeping arrangements and progressive rock leanings, this album follows the story of The Patient, a man dying of cancer. It follows him through his supposed death, on to his journey through the afterlife and his reflections on his life, as he meets characters such as Mother War, and Fear & Regret. I won't tell you if it has a happy ending or not... (wink)

And now, they have reinvented themselves again,which by the way, even though it requires adjustment of expectations on my part, I see this as a good thing, that they continue to grow and challenge themselves as artists. No longer band members in the Black Parade, they are now the Killjoys. They now wear rebellious technicolor outfits and fight bad guys with ray guns in a black and white post-apocalyptic world. Since the album hasn't been released yet, I can't give you the full scoop on the entire concept/story or the new musical direction they are going. Although, if the first single (and video) is any indication, they're taking a more straightforward rock and roll approach, with some power-pop mixed in.

It took a while for this first single to grow on me. I'm not used to this band just having fun and being... uh... happy. But it has a blistering guitar solo in the middle, that kept me coming back for more and now I love it. I have no idea what direction the new album is going to take, but I know I can trust them. I'm just going to hop in the Trans Am with them, buckle my seat belt and hang on for the ride!

Click on the image below and the video will launch in a new window. It makes a ton of B-movie and pop culture references, and is a treat in and of itself. Enjoy!
Na Na Na (Na Na Na)
By My Chemical Romance

(intro)
Look alive, Sunshine.
109 in the sky but the pigs won't quit.
You're here with me: Dr. Death Defying.
I'll be your surgeon, your proctor, your helicopter.
Pumpin' out the slaughtermatic sounds to keep you alive.
A system failure for the masses, anti-matter for the master plan.
Louder than God's revolver and twice as shiny.
This one's for all of you rock 'n' rollers,
All you crash queens and motor babies.
Listen up!
The future is bulletproof!
The aftermath is secondary!
It's time to do it now and do it loud!
Killjoys, make some noise!



Drugs
Gimme drugs
Gimme drugs
I don't need 'em
But I'll sell what you got
Take the cash
And I'll keep it
Eight legs to the wall
Hit the gas
Kill 'em all
And we crawl
And we crawl
And we crawl
You be my detonator

Love
Gimme love
Gimme love
I don't need it
But I'll take what I want
From your heart
And I'll keep it in a bag
In a box
With an X on the floor
Gimme more
Gimme more
Gimme more
Shut up and sing it with me

(Na Na Na...)
From mall security
To every enemy
We're on your property
Standing in V formation

(Na Na Na...)
Let's blow an artery
Eat plastic surgery
Keep your apology
Give us more detonation

(More! Gimme more! Gimme more!)
Oh, let me tell ya 'bout the sad man
Shut up and let me see your jazz hands
Remember when you were a madman
Thought you was Batman
Hit the party with a gas can
Kiss me you animal

(Na Na Na...)
You run the company
F*** like a Kennedy
I think we'd rather be
Burning your information

Let's blow an artery
Eat plastic surgery
Keep your apology
Give us more detonation

(spoken)
And right here
Right now
All the way in Battery City
The little children
Raised their open filthy palms
Like tiny daggers up to heaven
And all the juvee halls
And the Ritalin rats
Ask angels made from neon
and eating garbage
Scream out!
"What will save us?"
And the sky opened up

Everybody wants to change the world
Everybody wants to change the world
But no one,
No one wants to die
Wanna try, wanna try, wanna try
Wanna try, wanna try, now
I'll be your detonator

(Na Na Na...)
Make no apologies
It's death or victory
On my authority
Crash and burn
Young and loaded

Drop like a bulletshell
Dress like a sleeper cell
I'd rather go to hell
Than be in purgatory
Cut my hair
Gag and bore me
Pull this pin
Let this world explode

Thursday, November 04, 2010

An Overflowing Teacup

At the insistent prodding of my husband, I started this blog on Tuesday, October 31, 2006.  I know, it's a big surprise I started my blog on Halloween, isn't it? (She said sarcastically.) Although it was at a different address than it is now, but a couple days later I moved everything over to Blogger and have never looked back. For those of you who are contemplating starting a blog, I have found Blogger to be extremely easy to use and a very stable hosting site, at least in my limited experience.

In my very first post, I wondered what the purpose should be for this blog.  Initially, it was an extension of the "Mad Tea Party Afternoon" website I shared with a friend of mine, which is now defunct.  The two of us had been commiserating about how we missed the deep discussions and interactions from our college classrooms, and we started the website hoping to re-create some of that dialog and to establish connections to other like-minded art-loving souls via the Internet. On the website, we wrote articles analyzing and discussing the arts (i.e. movies, music, art, literature, etc.), while the blog was more like a journal of my random thoughts, and recountings of the personal things that have happened or were happening in my life, and other such things.  I look back on those posts now and cringe. It's like discovering your diary from when you were twelve:  kind of interesting, kind of endearing, but mostly embarrassing. 

Eventually the Mad Tea Party Afternoon website gave up the ghost and we shut it down.  The only visitors we ever attracted were spambots and hackers. It was too much work, too expensive to host and, at the time, blogs were all the rage, they were free and they seemed to be superseding traditional websites.  So the purpose of my blog slowly morphed into discussing the arts and for posting articles that I used to post on the website.

The following year, I evaluated the blog and vowed to post more articles and less lists. Reading that today made me smile, because I had forgotten how obsessed I was with writing and posting lists. I still am, but they don't make it onto the blog as often anymore.  I also said I wanted to continue to focus on writing about the arts instead of my everyday life, saying I didn't want the blog to turn into "an autobiographical navel-gazing type thing."  And yet, I find there are moments where I still do that (just recently, in fact).  I also said I wanted to post more regularly and consistently.  Four years into this venture and that is still an ongoing challenge, one that I hope I'm slowly getting better at.  These were all good blogging goals to have, and ones that I'm yet again going to re-commit myself to.  A dear friend also sent me a link to these blogging guidelines, which I'm going to keep in mind as well.  So, I thank you, Gentle Readers, for sticking with me on this journey over the last four years and I invite you to continue with me, as I refocus as well as expand my goals for this little venture.

Lately, I've been feeling introspective as well as trapped, discouraged, without purpose and just downright stuck, as this recent post illustrates.  We all have our moments, I suppose.  I don't yet have the answers to most of the unhappy "stuck" situations I find myself in, and which I discussed in that post, but I do know a few things. I know that I have an overflowing teacup. I know I'm incredibly privileged to have the means and the time to even mess around with a blog.  I also know that I am blessed beyond measure with a wonderful, loving, encouraging husband and a bunch of caring, supportive friends, who are all cheering me on.  And I know, most of all, that God has blessed me with gifts and talents, and He wants me to use them to reflect His glory.  I don't know exactly what that looks like yet, but I do know that God helps those who help themselves.  I have this wonderful tool - a blog - and I'm going to try and harness it, and use it more effectively, with my talents, for God's glory.  God will take care of the rest.

So what does that mean for you, Gentle Reader?  Well, in the next month or so, you can expect some re-tooling and re-designing of the blog itself (if I can figure out all the code-hacking), and you can expect to see more original works from yours truly (both visual and written), in addition to my usual analytical or expository articles.  Oh yeah... and there will be more tea... Won't you grab a cup and join me?

Tuesday, November 02, 2010

13 Days of Halloween - Even More Lessons Learned

I hope you've enjoyed reading my Halloween posts as much as I enjoyed writing them.  As usual, I will end the series with a post of lessons learned.  I've listed my previous tips below, but if you'd like to read the full explanation of each one, just click on the year date and it will take you directly to that post.  I hope you all had a safe, fun and spooky Halloween holiday!

THINGS I'VE LEARNED FROM PAST HALLOWEENS

2008
1. Temporary hair color isn't necessarily temporary.2. If your costume comes with an explanation, you'll be better off finding another costume.
3. Never ever go first into the haunted house.
4. Wigs are itchy.5. If the candy looks like it was made in the 70s, it probably was.
6. No one has the patience (or appreciation) for black and white horror movies.7. Carving pumpkins isn't nearly as fun as it looks.8. This tip is for all the kids... HIDE YOUR CANDY BAG!
 
2009
1. If you've started a new job, ask around and make sure people dress up on Halloween BEFORE you decide to show up in costume.
2. If Halloween falls on a Friday or Saturday night, don't expect as many trick-or-treaters.
3. Fake blood stains EVERYTHING.
4. If you want a unique costume, check out Goodwill.
5. Don't be THAT house (the one that passes out weird stuff instead of candy).

2010
1.  Murphy's Law is in full effect on Halloween too.  I have discovered that if I anticipate a lot of trick or treaters and purchase several bags of candy, I won't have hardy any kids come to my door and will have a ton of candy left over.  Then, the following year, basing my candy purchases on the previous year, I will only buy one or two bags, only to be inundated with kids, and consequently have to shut my porch light out early in the evening.  Sometimes you just can't win.


2. If you want to rent a costume, then do it in late-September, early-October.  Some of my friends were surprised to learn that I start planning my Halloween costume in September.  Usually it's because I try to put my costumes together from re-purposed items, crafted items, Goodwill purchases, etc. so I need time to pull that all together. However, if you are interested in renting a costume, you should probably investigate your options and reserve a costume early as well.  Most costume shops don't have multiples of a costume for rent, or if they do, it's only a couple, and their rental requests get taken up fast in the month of October.  Not only will shopping early ensure you a good selection, but you will also be able to try on the rentals at your leisure, without having to run into eighty billion other shoppers in the store as you come and go from the changing rooms.  My favorite costume shop in the Valley of the Sun is Easley's Fun Shop.  They are, hands-down, the best around and I heartily recommend them.  My bridal party even rented their costumes from Easley's (but that's another story for another time.)


3. If you leave your carved pumpkin on your porch overnight, you might find javelinas munching on them in the morning.  This probably only applies to those of us who live in the AZ desert, but you can fill in the blank (raccoons, bears, etc.) for animals that are indigenous to your own area.  I didn't personally learn this lesson, but have had this happen to several friends including, most recently, to my friend Chandy


4.  If your costume inhibits movement or limits your visibility, then don't play party games that require physicality.  You would think this would be a no-brainer, but I feel like I must mention it here as a safety advisory. In the eighth grade, I invited my best friend to a Halloween party.  She went dressed as an Egyptian (think Cleopatra). Her mother sewed, so she made her a white column type dress by using a t-shirt type pattern and just extending the length down to her ankles. It looked great, but there was no kick pleat or slit to allow for large strides to be taken.  We participated in a relay race, and my friend, trying to run in a dress that really wasn't made for running, on grass that was somewhat wet with evening dew, fell/slid and slammed into a brick wall. Ouch!  She ended up breaking her wrist, because she'd put out her hand to stop herself, and that's what got jammed into the wall. Not only did that put a damper on the rest of the party, but she then had to spend the next several hours in the ER on Halloween night. She ended up having to get a cast and later had to figure out how to wash her hair with one hand and her head hanging over the edge of the tub, which took about an hour, because instead of buying a wig, she's bought black hairspray and coated her hair with it. Then she had to wear the cast for six weeks. It was a catastrophe of immense proportions on many levels for a tender 13-year-old girl, and she blamed me for ALL of it, because I'd invited her to the party, and it was my idea to go as Egyptians.  Even though we remained good friends she continued to hold that grudge against me all through high school. We've since lost touch, but I'm sure somewhere out there, she's telling her kids about that one time she got hurt at a Halloween party...


5. Shop the after-holiday sales.  Everyone always thinks to shop the after-Christmas sales to get good deals on deeply discounted holiday decorations, wrapping paper and the like.  The shops don't want to have to put these items into storage, gathering dust until the next year, but instead want to get rid of it, so they usually have these items marked at 50 percent off or more.  Did you know this is also the case with Halloween decorations, candy (and sometimes costumes) too?  The biggest deals I found this year were at Michaels Craft Store.  I picked up some Halloween-themed candy molds and cake decorating items, some room decorations, party favors, and fall floral sprays all for a screaming deal.  I went there the week before Halloween, when they'd just put everything into deep discounts to clear the items and make way for their Christmas merchandise.  Of course, waiting this late into the season to purchase something means you run the risk of the store already being sold out of the item, so don't wait on a sale for something you really really need.  But if you're looking to add to your decor collection, or candy supplies, or whatever, it's definitely worth it to wait.


What are some of your holiday tips?  Please leave me a comment and let me know.  And we'll see you next year!  Until then, stay tuned for a year's worth of non-Halloween blog posts and a few new changes coming to my blog in the month of November.

Monday, November 01, 2010

13 Days of Halloween - a Masquerade vs. a Strip Club

So I had out-of-town company visiting for the Halloween weekend.  It was one of my very dear friends who is also a Halloween-loving, horror-movie-watching dark-hearted fiend.  So, along with my husband, we spooky three spent our time enjoying the holiday weekend, including partaking in four (count them, four!) horror movies.  Consequently, I completely slacked off on my Halloween posts.  I was too busy enjoying it to stop and take time to write about it!  But here are a few final posts to catch us up.  This particular post will fall into my "rant" category.

Since when did Halloween for young girls and adult women become less about clever, cute or creepy costumes and more about so called "costumes" that look like they came from the lingerie aisle or worse yet, Strippers R Us?  I know I'm probably stating the obvious here, but our society is becoming so completely over-sexualized, it's ridiculous. I was going to put an example picture here, but I couldn't even stand to have a picture of one of those costumes on my blog, even with black modesty bars across the exposed bits.  I'm sure I don't need to explain them. If you went costume shopping this year, or went out on the town over Halloween weekend, I'm sure you were witness to at least one of these atrocities.  Out of all the costumes listed on BuyCostumes.com, approximately one-third of the adult costumes are listed as "sexy".  They are sleeveless, bustier, garter-belt, short-skirt combos that leave absolutely nothing to the imagination.

A sexy ladybug?  Really?

Or worse yet, a sexy Big Bird costume. Yeah, the Big Bird from Sesame Street, a KID'S show!!!  That's just wrong on so many levels.

Speaking of kids... I'm not a parent, but I have friends with kids, and have tried to shop for said kids, for birthdays or whatnot, and been dismayed at the lack of modest clothing for little girls.  It's not cute for a five-year-old to have "Juicy" or "Sweet" emblazoned across the seat of their pants.  So I suppose I shouldn't be surprised that these skimpy Halloween costumes are also invading the pre-teen sizes as well.  There was a pre-teen girl that showed up at my door to trick-or-treat last night in the raunchiest, tiniest Catholic school girl get-up, that I wanted to loan her a coat to cover up with.

We are robbing children of their innocence much too soon.  We are desensitizing ourselves to sexual images.  Women who are respectable moms, co-workers and friends, are walking out of the house in clothes they wouldn't dare go to the mall in on an average afternoon, all under the premise that "Halloween makes it okay. It's just a costume." We're objectifying our bodies, then complain when men treat us poorly. Has the whole world gone and lost its mind?!?!

Are sexy Halloween costumes really a reflection of a bigger problem in our culture or am I just overreacting? Or if you agree, what's the solution?  Please leave me a comment and let me know.

Thursday, October 28, 2010

13 Days of Halloween - Snick-a-loaf

Another short and sweet post for tonight: a video of comedian Tim Hawkins talking about Halloween candy.  He mentions the infamous popcorn balls that I discussed in one of my posts.  If you've never heard Tim Hawkins' songs or routines before, be sure to click on his other videos.  My particular favorites are "Chick-fil-a" and "Delilah".  Enjoy!

Wednesday, October 27, 2010

13 Days of Halloween - Trunk or Treat

I'm not sure when the whole Trunk or Treat thing started.  I'm guessing it was shortly after 9/11, because I remember everyone was afraid to let their kids go trick-or-treating in neighborhoods, and they were taking them to the mall, or to private parties. 

Trunk or Treats are, in my experience, usually put on by churches, but I think some schools also do it.  In case you've never been to one, here's how it works.  Everyone parks their cars in one lot, and the lot is then roped off, so that you don't have to worry about traffic and the kids can run freely from car to car.  This is much safer than kids running up and down residential streets, like they do with traditional trick or treating, with traffic or people backing out of their driveways.  Everyone opens their trunk, decorates the trunk and/or their whole car, and the kids go from car to car, trick or treating. 

Last night was my church's trunk or treat event.  It was a blast!  In addition to the decorated cars, we also had carnival games like a ring toss, cake walk, etc. and food.  That would be me, in the above picture, dressed as The Grey Lady (a common title for a female ghost) standing in front of my haunted abode.  I took a piece of cardboard from a TV box and, using poster paint, painted the house onto it.  Then I cut out the windows, so that the light from the trunk would shine through the windows.  The kids had to reach through the front door to get a piece of candy.  Even though there wasn't anything in the trunk to get them, I'd hint that something might get them, so they'd better be quick. (I only did this with the older kids.)  Funny how our own imaginations can give us the biggest fright.

I also had a game for them to play; a trick in order to get the treat.  They had to throw three squishy balls into the jack-o-lantern's mouth. (You can see it to the right of the photo.)  It was just a box that I also painted with poster paints, then cut the mouth out.  I sat the box on a folding chair so it would be at the right height.  I was surprised at how much this was a hit with the kids.  Although, maybe it was because I was hamming it up, in character, and talking about how my jack-o-lantern was hungry and needed to be fed...  We also played creepy Halloween music through our car speakers to set the mood. Again, it was a lot of fun.  In fact, I think I had just as much fun as the kids did.

Now I know this is going to surprise you, (Ha!), but when it comes to Halloween, I'm usually a traditionalist.  When I first heard of Trunk or Treat, I reacted thusly: "No, no no. Trick or treating is done door to door! Where's the fun in going from car to car? How can walking up to a car replace knocking on the door of a spooky dark house, not knowing who is going to open the door?"  But having experienced a couple of Trunk or Treats now, I'd have to say, they're growing on me.  It's nice that it's a controlled, safe environment, but I think my favorite aspect of it, is that I get to celebrate trick or treating and Halloween with 60+ of my closest friends and acquaintances.  I remember when I was little, my parents would drive me all over the neighborhood, just so I could trick or treat at our friends' houses, so they could see my costume, etc.  Well, now all your friends are just one or two parking spaces away!

What do you think?  Do you prefer Trunk or Treat over the traditional door-to-door approach? 

13 Days of Halloween - Creepy Kitchen

So I didn't get this posted yesterday because I had a loooong night and was exhausted by the time I got done.  I had to make decorations for our car, then had to make candies and use them to decorate a two tiered Halloween cake, all for tonight's Trunk or Treat festivities (more on that, including pictures, will be posted after the event tonight).  I thought it might be fun though, to do a quick little tutorial on how to make your own molded candies.  They are super easy and always make for a great reaction from your party guests or candy recipients.

I use Wilton Candy Melts when making molded candy (see picture above).  They melt nicely, are easy to use, and come in a variety of colors.  You can also purchase candy flavorings if, say, you want to tint the red candy to have a cherry taste. You can get Candy Melts at Michaels, JoAnns and speciality stores. I also bought a bag of Brach's Autumn Mix, since I needed small pumpkins, and the pumpkin mold I had was too big for the scale of the cake. 

For this particular project, I melted my candy three different ways.  First, I knew I was going to use a lot of milk chocolate, so I fired up this little baby: Wilton's Chocolate Melter. It's a big time help when it comes to making candy. There's no messing with a double boiler, no having to reheat your pan of chocolate when it starts to get cold and sets up on you, and no separating chocolate because you got it too hot.  You can dump in a whole bag of the candy melts and it melts them all down, then you can change the setting to warm, and it keeps the chocolate at a perfect temperature.  You can lift the pot out of the warmer too, so you can hold it over your molds or whatever you're working on.  I also use this when I'm making chocolate covered oreos.

Next, I melted just a wafer of each of the three different colors that I was going to be using to paint details on the molds. I melted them in this little palate thing I have made for that purpose.  I also put some white chocolate wafers, dark chocolate wafers and black chocolate wafers into three plastic disposable piping bags.  All these items went into the microwave and I started melting them down at 30 percent power, at 30 second intervals. After each 30 seconds, I'd need the bags and stir the little paint pots.  This slowly melts the chocolate, so that it doesn't separate.  You just keep doing this until all the solids are melted and the mixture looks smooth.

Using a decorating brush, I painted the details on the candy mold.  Candy molds can be purchased at Michaels, JoAnns, some speciality stores and online, of course. My favorite place to shop in the Valley of the Sun is ABC Cake Decorating.  They have a huge supply of candy molds for everything imaginable, and lots of awesome cake making supplies too.  I let that candy set up, which usually takes no time at all, since it's a thin amount of candy.  Then I went back in with the piping bag with the next color I wanted.  For example, for the bats, I painted red on their eyes and mouths, then went in with the piping bag and filled in the bat with the black candy.  Once it set, I spooned out milk chocolate from the warmer, and filled the rest of the mold until it was level.  You almost have to think backwards, or in reverse.

Here's a key step, so pay attention - you need to gently tap or shake the mold, to get all the bubbles out and to make sure the candy has seeped into every crevasse of the image.  These molds are surprisingly detailed, but it can ruin the detail if you've got air bubbles or missed filling in a spot. I hold the mold up and look underneath to see if I've gotten rid of all the bubbles.  For stubborn areas, I take a toothpick and insert down into the chocolate and get rid of them that way.  You have to be careful when you do that, because even though you let the other colors set up first before filling in with the milk chocolate, the heat from that chocolate will re-heat the other layers and you could smear your colors together.

Although, in the case of my little tombstones, I wanted to make a marbled effect for the stone, so I piped in white and black directly in the mold and then swirled and mixed them with a decorating brush. The experiment paid off and it made a streaky, marble gray.  You can leave your candies out to set up in room temperature, but that takes forever.  I slide my molds into the freezer, just until the bottom of the mold appears frosty or the candy is firm to the touch (just make sure the molds can sit flat in the freezer, otherwise the chocolate won't set up level and you'll have slanted candies). You can tell by looking at it if it's hardened.  Then just turn the mold over onto some wax paper and they usually pop right out with little or no coaxing.

Below is a picture of my finished candies, which I then used to decorate a cake (again, there will be more pictures posted tonight).  You'll also notice the roof and side pieces of what looks like a house.  This is one of my favorite molds.  You put the four sides and two roof pieces together, using melted chocolate as the glue, to make a haunted house, which I used as my cake topper. How cool is that?  Also, the bat molds are actually shaped to be like cake picks.  You know - those little plastic decorations they stick into cupcakes - but instead, you can eat these ones! Again, how cool is that?

Sorry I didn't take more pictures while I was working; I was under a time crunch.  Maybe for Christmas or Valentine's Day I can do another tutorial on how to make filled candies, truffles, drop candies and dipped items (like oreos, pretzels, etc.) How about you - do you make candies for the holidays?  Leave me a comment and let me know.

Tuesday, October 26, 2010

13 Days of Halloween - Trick-or-Treat

Here's a little interesting tidbit about the tradition of Trick-or-Treating.  It actually dates back to the middle ages, when it was common for people to dress up in costumes and beg door-to-door for food or treats on holidays (similar to Christmas caroling or wassailing). It wasn't originally called trick-or-treating but souling, when children and the poor would go from house to house on Hallowmas (Nov. 1) and receive food in exchange for promising to pray for the souls of the dead for that homeowner, on All Souls Day (Nov. 2).  This stems from the Catholic tradition that souls in purgatory can be prayed into heaven by living believers.

It wasn't until much later, in about the 1920s, that trick-or-treating became more of a thing that was solely for children, who would go to the shops in town and to their neighbors and sing little rhymes or recite poems in exchange for fruit or nuts.  So the "trick" was actually a mini-recital. It wasn't long after, that the tricks soon became harmless good-spirited pranks, similar to toilet papering someone's house in today's time.  And the nuts and fruits were replaced with candies.

Out of all the candy sold throughout the year in America, one quarter of it is sold during October, for Halloween.  How much is that?  Try 600 million pounds of candy!  I think I got a cavity just from researching that on Google.

So, let's talk about candy!  Leave me a comment and let me know... What is was your favorite candy to get at Halloween? (KitKats. I also loved getting Bazooka bubble gum, anything chocolate and tootsie roll pops or charms blow pops.) Did you have any neighbors that gave out full size candy bars? (I didn't. I did have a neighbor who gave out those little paper treat bags, stuffed with hand-selected candy. She was awesome.)  How do you feel about candy corn? (I love them.)  What about popcorn balls? (I've yet to try one that didn't feel and taste like eating Styrofoam.)    Do you prefer hard candy over chocolate? (Depends on my mood, but chocolate usually wins out.)  What is the weirdest thing you ever got in your candy bag when trick or treating?  (For me, it was probably a pencil with a Halloween design on it, or a religious tract.)

Sunday, October 24, 2010

13 Days of Halloween - Quoth the Raven, Nevermore!

Since I'm busy with all my crafts and assorted errands in preparation for all the Halloween activities this week, I'm going to keep this post short and sweet tonight, (or should I say short and creepy?). I love Edgar Allan Poe - he was an innovator of poetry and the mystery/thriller genre. He was an amazing, albeit tortured, author. I don't have the words or the time to go into it here (maybe another post for another time?).  I also love Vincent Price. I could listen to him read the phone book. He has a beautiful, eloquent and yet sinister voice.  And his films will also take a rightful place in horror movie history.  So combine the two together...ah... pure genius! 

And yes, that picture above is me dressed as a raven from Halloween a couple years ago.  I went around quoting "The Raven" all day (and probably driving everyone in my office nuts).