Creepy Inspiration

Welcome to the last Spookytober post for this year. Like some people mourn the closing of the holiday season, I get sad towards the end of Halloween month. When the skeletons and spiders come down, I already start thinking about next year.

Here are some great resources online that are bookmark-worthy to spark the creepy side of your imagination...

Disney Family Fun
I was shocked to find some really fun things that I hadn't seen before on the Disney Family Fun site. Frankly, I usually find anything Disney-related too saccharine for my taste. I was particularly taken with the (quite labor intensive) apple slices carved into fake teeth and I don't even eat meat and I swooned over the Mummy Meatloaf. They have costume, decorating, and party ideas galore. Definitely a treasure-trove.

Martha Stewart
I am going to make a bold statement here. No one carves a better pumpkin in this world than the folks over at Martha Stewart. They could carve anything you set in front of them, spaghetti squash, pumpkins, basically anything with a shell. I know I can be a Marthaphile, but really, who else does a lace-carved pumpkin? The excellence over there humbles this wanna-be. And the Halloween shop on her site is a great place to get ideas as well. A lot of beautiful decorations out there can be hand-made if you don't want to purchase them.

My Halloween Ideas
This site is so much fun. Great ideas for decorating your front porch on trick-or-treat night, amazing secrets for making realistic bullet holes or a safety pin wounds, and even spooky stories. If you are having a Halloween party this is the reference site for you, neon jello shots, creepy-looking invitations, and more.

Inchmark Journal
This blog has some really cool ideas for Halloween costumes and treats. The neatest thing ever are the potted pumpkin pies. This is the best take-along treat concept that I have ever seen. There is also an owl costume for a little one that is simple, yet unbelievably adorable.

The Perfect Witches Hat

 I have been on the hunt for the perfect witches hat for a long time. As silly as it sounds, I have dreams of answering the door during trick-or-treat wearing with a hat so awesome that the kids squeal with delight. The required elements are: a very tall and pointy top with a little wonky curliness, a wide brim (preferably stiff), a really wide ribbon on the band (possibly some black flowers tastefully added around), and lastly, a spider or two hanging down from the brim. Black velvet would be my fabric of choice. I'm thinking Tim Burton-esque. I'd like to make my own, but in my web searches I have yet to find the perfect tutorial. What I think I will have to do at some point is create my own pattern, cobbled together from a few different ones. I found a couple here that will be great starting points: Dead Roses Witch Hat, and the hat from this Wicked Witch Costume. I'd love to hear tips from anyone who has tackled this sort of project!

So long Spookytober, I can't believe you are all done. The next 11 months can't pass fast enough!


Curses! Foiled Again!

Mittens are my evil nemesis.

I'm sure that, to most of you, having mittens as an evil nemesis probably seems pretty lame. Kind of like having a baby kitten as an evil nemesis - how can something so fluffy and warm be evil? But they are evil. Evil and soul-sucking.

You may remember, from a previous Ooo! Shiny! post, that I knitted a dragon scarf and dragon hat for my friend's daughter. The scarf came from a pattern but the hat was created totally from scratch by me - no pattern whatsoever. I was pretty damn proud of myself for that. Now, the hat's not perfect by any stretch of the imagination. It could have been longer to cover her ears better and the overall design could have been more elegant. But, it's for a five year old and it matches the scarf so, really, I'm not losing sleep over it.

For some reason, I thought it would be a good idea for her to have mittens to complete the set.With the benefit of 20/20 hindsight, I realize I should have quit while I was ahead. "How hard could mittens be?", I naively asked? Pretty damn hard is the answer.

Never trust a mitten. Even a nice one.*
I went to my favorite source for free patterns - Ravelry - and started looking for the easiest instructions available. I specifically wanted to use either circular or double-pointed needles because I didn't want to have to piece the thing together. After slogging through a ga-jillion options, I settled on a pattern that looked relatively easy - and it was! I knitted up the cuff and thumb gusset (the bit where the thumb attaches to the mitten) with no problem. Then, about 1/2 way up the body of the mitten, it occurred to me that it looked kind of big. So I slipped my hand into it. And it fit.

After tearing the mitten apart, I started again - adjusting the pattern by about 1/4 in an attempt to make it smaller. So far so good. The cuff knitted up quickly. The gusset looked okay. And I managed to "guess" my way through the pattern adjustments to end up with a pretty decent looking, 5-year-old-sized mitten. Then I made the thumb.

Evil, evil, evil!!!

The thumb ended up with two giant gaps in the "v" where the thumb attaches to the body of the mitten. ARGH! The only solution I had at that point was to "sew" the gaps closed with yarn. Needless to say, it looks pretty crappy and is not worthy of being a gift.

[Note for those who knit: My mistake was as follows: I had to cast on two additional stitches to start the thumb. I did a M1 for both, which left me with big holes. Instead I should have K1FB on two stitches which would have given me two additional stitches but not left holes.]

So...yeah... I'm pretty much convinced that mittens have an nefarious plot to drive me mad and ensure that I never knit them again. I can't imagine why they wouldn't want to be brought into existence but who knows what evil lurks in the hearts of hand coverings, really?

- Alex

* For the free pattern of the basket weave mittens shown above click here.

My name is Cassandra, and I am a control freak.

This is where you all say "Hello Cassandra".

I need to talk about my knitting. It has been consuming my free time lately. The sewing machine is actually growing a layer of dust because I am in a time crunch to get the boys holiday sweaters done. But, I have good news, as of this weekend, I have the larger sized sweater all knitted up. Some of the pressure is off my shoulders, whew. I had big plans on working outside this weekend, getting the house all winterized... then (luckily) the rain started. What is a girl to do besides sit on her rear and watch a movie and knit in such a situation?

cables, cables, and more cables

So I have a pile of green cables just waiting to be blocked. I will give the pieces a good soak tonight (for an hour or so) and lay them out to dry. This should be a very satisfying part of the sweater process for a "product" knitter such as myself, but not so much. I hate blocking, and I REALLY hate seaming. They are necessary evils on my way to a finished product. I know I am not alone here. I've heard that some yarn shops actually will do these tasks for you for a fee. As much as I hate blocking and seaming, I could never not finish it on my own. Maybe it's my Midwestern "I can do it myself" side that is showing, I don't know. The sweater is only mine if I take the process cradle to grave. I feel the same way about quilting, I have no interest in doing the piecing myself and then taking it in to be quilted on a long-arm machine. With this said, I do want to posit that I have absolutely no judgment for people who do take some of their work outside for finishing, I am completely aware that I am a control freak!

Every year, around this time, I become a little less in love with my crafting. When I have a deadline, a list, and some pressure, it starts to seem like a chore instead of creative outlet. This is why I keep a very short list of things I want to make for the holidays. Thus, my extended family will never be recipients of hand-made items from me. Oh, well, maybe when my boys are bigger and don't want me to make sweaters for them anymore. Maybe then I will grace my family with embroidered dishtowels, or knitted mittens, or the like. Or maybe not. Maybe I will finally make some things for myself.


The Ghost Hunters

Today's blog post is a reprint of a guest post I did for Milwaukee Ghosts. Please visit their site for cool information about haunted places in Milwaukee, investigations, and guided tours!

For seven seasons, SciFi Channel (aka SyFy) has been home to Ghost Hunters – one of the first and arguably the best of the paranormal reality shows. The program is hosted by Jason Hawes and Grant Wilson who are working plumbers when they aren’t shooting the show. As unreal as that sounds, it’s true and it’s integral to what makes the show so appealing.

Jason and Grant are regular guys who each had a paranormal experience that changed their lives. They met and discovered their shared interest in the paranormal, leading them to form TAPS (The Atlantic Paranormal Society.) TAPS’ mission is to help people discover whether their home or business is really haunted or if their experiences can be explained by something natural – like leaky pipes or a bad HVAC system. Interestingly, Jason and Grant are “skeptical believers.” They do believe in ghosts (they do!) but they go into any investigation with a very critical eye. At least 70% of the “hauntings” can be explained by something totally mundane, much to the chagrin of the haunted home owners. It’s also important to note that TAPS doesn’t charge any money to investigate - ever. This point, in particular, lends them a huge amount of credibility.

The show is a success due in large part to Jason and Grant’s authenticity. These guys are exactly who they seem to be - they play practical jokes on each other, they love their families, and they’re in awe that someone is paying them to do what they love.

Alex & The Ghost Hunters
I’ve had the pleasure of hearing them speak, along with members of their team, on a number of occasions. They are completely accessible and truly appreciative of their fans, making their talks much more intimate than with most celebrities. They’re also known to say, over and over, that they know that fame is fleeting and that someday they’ll be plumbers again full time.

The beautiful (and haunted?) Pabst Theater
Cassandra and I are long-standing Ghost Hunters fans so, on Saturday night, October 16, when  Jason and Grant played two nearly sold out shows in the purportedly haunted Pabst Theater in Milwaukee, we HAD to be there. Having seen them previously, I expected a similar setup - a moderated panel in which we’d hear some stories and then a lengthy Q&A. What we got was an hour of banter, stories, and - I’m not kidding - a PowerPoint presentation. Now, before you groan, I’m telling you that, if one must use PowerPoint, this is the way to do it. The guys used the slides to support their schtick – pulling up bullet points at exactly the right time to accentuate the story – often to gales of laughter from the audience.

They began with a short history of themselves and TAPS which, given the audience, was probably unnecessary. I’m pretty sure that everyone in the room was a fan. Then they covered the various types of hauntings such as “residual”, “intelligent”, “poltergeist”, etc. After we learned about the types of phenomena, we were treated to a number of case studies, wherein the guys told us what the homeowner claimed to experience, what TAPS experienced, and what their conclusion was. These were, undoubtedly, the best slides of the night. The conclusions were often funny but sometimes very sad and disturbing – especially when the haunting involved children. One interesting point they made was in the case study where the homeowner had recently been diagnosed with schizophrenia and was being heavily medicated because she heard voices. TAPS discovered that the voices the woman was hearing were saying the same things as the voices they were capturing on EVP (disembodied voices imprinted on audio recording devices.) Their conclusion was that the woman wasn’t schizophrenic at all; she was simply becoming sensitive to the spirits around her.

After the case studies, we were treated to outtakes and footage from the show. These were videos of things they captured on film – ghostly images, furniture moving unaided, etc. – most of which never made it to air. Problems with the projection system made this the least satisfying portion of the program but they were very apologetic and even asked if anyone in the audience had a solution for fixing the problem. Amazingly, in a room full of geeks, none of us had AV experience enough to help out.

Jason & Grant doing Q&A
Finally, they ended the program with 40 minutes of Q&A. In order to move things along, they did an FAQ bit beforehand, getting some of the most commonly asked questions out of the way immediately. After that, they sat down and patiently answered questions about everything from how they handle working two jobs (the show and plumbing) to some uber-fan’s dissection of the most minute detail of some show from season two. You could tell they were running long – it was probably supposed to be 30 minutes – but they stuck with it in order to take questions from a number of children who had been waiting in line. So sweet!

All in all, it was a really great night. Lots of laughing. Lots of banter with the audience. And an actual PowerPoint slide that didn’t put us to sleep. Even I, a seasoned Ghost Hunters fan, learned new stuff and saw my plucky heroes in a new light.

This tour is called the Lecture Series and runs from October 15 through the 22. They have other appearances around the country throughout the year and their schedule can be found at

- Alex

Is it Bert & Ernie, or Ernie & Bert?

A few years ago I was over the moon, getting ready to have my first baby in *ahem* 15 years. Needless to say, I was excited to dive into decorating the nursery. The crafty bug hadn't bit me too hard yet so I decorated the room with matchy-matchy store bought d├ęcor, which ain't cheap.

However, the craftier I became, the more my store-bought nursery set looked really lame. I knew I was going to have to ditch this stuff and hand-craft a room. But, where to start? A theme.... Sesame Street! I love and trust children's programming on PBS so my kids are BIG fans. I did a quick search online to see what was available. I was looking for any Sesame Street-branded raw items - fabric and such - that I would need to create the perfect room for my boys. That's when I got a bit deflated.

You would think that a show as popular and beloved as Sesame Street would have lots of licensed materials for me to use. Not so much. Now I'm not saying that there wasn't any fabric out there, because there was. There just wasn't much of it and the styles were wrong. My creative vision was Martha Stewart meets Sesame Street and all I could find was sort of pastel with muddled design. The graphic designer in me wanted clean, simple, and bold colors. That's when I knew, I had to take matters into my own hands.

I decided to use colorful fabrics as a base to convey the feeling of Sesame Street. Then I would add the beloved characters to the fabric using embroidery, felt, and whatever else worked. Now, this room is still in process...but well on it's way. The first project that I'm going to introduce to you are the Ernie & Bert throw pillows.

Ernie & Bert Throw Pillows

Using one of my absolute favorite patterns, the Flange Pillows from the French General Home Sewn book by Kaari Meng, I got started. Little pillows like these are a great way to add a pop of a bright color in the room so I chose a yellow fabric, orange grosgrain ribbon trim and an awesome polka dot pattern for the back. For the character design, I went out to and found some coloring sheets* to use as embroidery patterns, for free! How awesome is that? Using transfer paper, I traced my characters onto the yellow fabric (one Ernie and one Bert.) Then I cut the fabric to the correct size for the pillow front - ensuring that the design was centered - and got my hand-stitch on. I used red embroidery floss with a simple chain stitch for the images.

The directions for the pillow pattern were simple and well illustrated. I had them sewn up in a snap. This is why I love that book! If you don't own it... do yourself a favor and buy it. Home Sewn includes so many basic (but stylish) patterns that you will find yourself referring to it over and over again. I love these little pillows, they're the perfect size for my little guy's head and I think they're the perfect canvas for Ernie & Bert.

If you're interested in doing some simple embroidery like this, I highly recommend the book Embroidery Companion: Classic Designs for Modern Living by Alicia Paulson, which Alex and I reviewed last week. It's a great instructional manual and will give you all the basic technique you need to get started.

I will share more of the Sesame Street room here and there, and eventually I will give you a grand tour. Talk to you soon!


*The beauty of coloring sheets as embroidery patterns is that they're already, by nature, simple, graphic line drawings. No editing necessary.

The Sharing Ends.

The last CSA box was delivered on Saturday. It was a bittersweet day.

For those not "in the know", CSA stands for Community Supported (or Shared) Agriculture. CSA members own "shares" in a local farm and their primary benefit is receiving boxes of fresh produce all summer long. And by fresh, I'm talking "just harvested yesterday" fresh. Every box is a surprise, unless you're really in tune with the harvesting season. After five years of being a CSA member, I've learned some basic truths about when stuff gets harvested (leafy greens in the spring, for example) but I'm still pretty clueless when it comes to guessing what might show up from week to week.

Awesome graphic courtesy of Saffire Farms CSA in Ottawa
Both the CSA's I've been with are great about providing newsletters with each box that identifies what's in there and what to do with the stuff. This is especially helpful if you've never eaten a kohlrabi or beet or parsnip. Having been raised in a New England household with Italian heritage, I'd never even SEEN a beet before I moved to the midwest. And I've still only eaten turnips once - the first time I got them in my CSA box* and decided I'd give them a try. Of course, we ate figs and squid growing up so, there you go.

The reason the last box is bittersweet is that, when you're one person and you eat meat, it's kind of hard to plow through so much produce before the next box shows up. I love supporting my local, organic farm by buying a share every year. I love the weekly surprise and the subsequent recipe hunt. I love the flavor of really, lovely fresh produce. But, holy cow, is my refrigerator full! And, really, how is one supposed to eat 10 lbs of carrots anyway?

The last box is usually all winter squash and root vegetables. This is good for me because these are items I know how to cook and they have a long shelf life. I'm also awash in apples because, you know, it's that season.

So, in honor of my last CSA box of 2010 and in honor of the abundance of fall produce, I'd like to share a couple of my all-time favorite recipes that use some of these items. I hope you enjoy them.

Buon Appetito!

- Alex

*Yes, I still get turnips in every fall box. No, I do not eat them (or the rutabagas.) I never developed a taste for them nor did I find recipes that felt easy and natural enough to add to my repertoire. Instead I pawn them off on unsuspecting people (like my son's girlfriend who'll try cooking anything) or the midwestern neighbors who grew up eating the them.

Winter Casserole

This is one of my all-time favorites. It's filling and comforting and perfect for cold weather.

One medium sized apple for each person that the casserole is feeding
Roasted sweet potatoes, cubed into good-sized chunks
Sweet Italian Sausage (I do not recommend using hot sausage as the flavor fights with the other ingredients)
Prepared stuffing mix (I like Pepperidge Farms Cubed Herb Stuffing - it holds up best)

You want to adjust the amount of ingredients based on the number of people you're serving so that's why there are no quantities on anything. Wing it. If you end up with too much of something, no big deal. If you short someone a serving...well, you'll know for next time.

1. Pierce the sweet potatoes with a fork and roast in a 400 degree oven until they're soft. Cool until they can be handled then remove the skin and cube. This can be done a day ahead and it actually makes it easier to cube if the whole, cooked potatoes have been in the refrigerator overnight.
2. Remove the casing from the sausages and then cut them to make small "meatballs." You may have to shape them a bit by hand. Brown the meatballs (I use the broiler) but do not cook through. You're going to be cooking them again in the casserole and you don't want them turning to rubber.
3. Moisten the stuffing with water or broth and a little butter. Mound that in the middle of a large casserole dish.

4. Core the apples, leaving the bottom intact. In other words, don't cut all the way through the apple. You want a well in the middle. Scrape out all the seeds and seed casings. Fill the wells with cinnamon sugar. Place the apples in the casserole dish around the stuffing.
5. Put the browned sausage balls in the casserole dish between the apples.
6. Top the entire thing with the cubed sweet potatoes.

Cover and cook in a 350 degree oven for about 1 hour - or until the apples are soft (test with a fork). Different apples cook at different rates. Really crispy ones like Honey Gold take longer. Softer varieties like Macintosh take less time.

Remove from oven and let sit for about 15 minutes. The apples are like molten lava and can really burn a mouth so be very careful when serving.

Roasted Beet Salad

Beets are something I learned to eat later in life. My first-ever beet was homemade and pickled and I loved it. Now I'm a big fan of roasted beets - both hot and cold. This is my favorite cold recipe.

Beets (I prefer golden because you can handle them without making your sink look like you just knifed someone to death. If you're going to use red, please wear rubber gloves or your hands are going to be purple.)
Mixed salad greens (Whatever you like. I prefer something with field greens because the "bitter" of the greens offsets the sweet of the beets.)
Blue or Gorgonzola cheese
Walnuts (candied if you can get your hands on some)
A light vinaigrette dressing (I usually make my own with olive oil & champagne vinegar)

1. Roast the beets by piercing them with a fork, wrapping in tin foil (place the packet on a cookie sheet because they will bleed and drip stuff inside your oven), and cooking in a 400 degree oven until tender.
2. Allow the beets to cool and then skin them (the skin should peel right off).
3. Cube the beets into bite-sized pieces
4. Toss the beets with salad greens, walnuts, and blue cheese crumbles
5. Blend some blue cheese into your vinaigrette dressing (making it creamy) and dress the salad

It was a dark and stormy night...

Hi everyone! It's time for another October Friday post where we share some spooky fun! Today I'd like to focus on something we really love over here at Ooo! Shiny!... books about things that go bump in the night. I've included some that have literary merit...and some are just a rollicking good time. There is a place for both in my heart.

As I mentioned before, Alex and I really, really love to read. Unfortunately, these days my "me time" is limited. With two toddlers in the house I have to spend my down-time wisely. I used to spend a lot of time in a comfy chair curled up with a good book and a cup of tea, and now I listen to books more than read them. This is a great option. I can have my cake and eat it too—hands free to craft and still enjoying a good book. I am aware that, before I know it, I will be the mother of older kids and will have plenty of time to spend with proper books once again.

Here are a few of my all-time fave's in no particular order:

Rosemary's Baby
This story just rocks. I am a HUGE fan of this movie and an even bigger fan of the book. It is brilliantly written and gives such wonderful insight into the subtleties of Rosemary and Guy's relationship. Having been written as a "contemporary" novel, the story references lots of things that are particular to the time, like Broadway plays and certain brands of products - making it an interesting time capsule. As is the case with most books that become movies, a lot of chapters are not included in the movie due to time constraints. These chapters are especially wonderful because they are like finding hidden treasure. Also, there is a contemporary audiobook recording done by Mia Farrow that is amazing and I highly suggest checking it out.

The Uninvited
This is a recent discovery of mine. One of my favorite podcasts, Forgotten Classics (FC), introduced me to this book in audio version. It's a ghost story set in 1940's England. I don't want to give too much away. Julie at FC did a wonderful job reading this and positing her thoughts and research before and after each chapter. The author is Dorothy MacArdle and I haven't been able to find too many of her works in print these days. Such a shame, she spins a very spooky yarn!

Extra Large Medium
I actually read this book in paper form a couple years ago. Alex had picked it up and enjoyed it... passed it along to me, and I really liked it too. Another British author, Helen Slavin, tells a very fun, contemporary story about a girl named Annie who has inherited mediumistic abilities. It's just the tale of an average girl, living her life, who happens to be shadowed by the dead who are trying to get her to to listen to what they have to say. I wasn't able to find an audio version of this book.

Seeking Spirits
This is the 2nd nonfiction book written by Jason Hawes and Grant Wilson from the TV show Ghost Hunters. In this book they recount some of their early experiences when they first started out investigating the paranormal. They didn't have fancy equipment...they were just a couple curious guys at this time. In my opinion, there is not much better than REAL ghost stories. Especially told by people who are credible and are skeptical believers. Great book to generate some goosebumps! This one doesn't seem to have an audio version either.

Now, this is just a few of the spooky books that I love. Other books I'd like to mention would be my favorite Stephen King book, The Shining (actually had to put it down a few times when I was reading it because I punked out!), another non-fiction book by Christine Wicker called Lilydale, and anything really by Edgar Allen Poe. Luckily, Poe's works are in the public domain and are available for free download on Librivox. I'm not sure if it would be considered scary, but The Thirteenth Tale by Diane Setterfield is definitely creepy.

I hope this gives you some ideas for books you might want to pick up or download to get you going for Halloween. If you have any you'd like to share...please put them in the comments, we'd love to hear about them!

- Cassandra

Cover Me.

Over the years, I've inherited a lot of furniture from my family - most of it cast-offs that were "donated" to help me furnish whatever place I was living at the time. To my benefit, my family's hand-me-downs are usually pretty nice. I ended up with some antiques that have a lot of sentimental value attached.  Also, my home ended up looking like my mother's, but that's a different blog post altogether.

Not my actual furniture...

One chair, in particular, was always a favorite of mine from my mother's house. I couldn't believe it when she offered it to me early in my adulthood. Over the years I've come to realize why she was willing to give it up - it's a monster of a piece of furniture. It's an unusual wing-back chair in that the "wings" aren't angled against the back. In fact, the back is concave, creating a huge expanse. The thing is easily four feet tall at the back and the wingspan is a good three feet wide. You really have to have a room that can handle a chair like that.

At some point, my mother had a slipcover made for the monster. The original upholstery was something sort of boring and "classic." The slipcover, on the other hand, was all-'70's-all-the-time - sporting massive poppies on a field of white. When donated to my first apartment, it came to me this way - with old upholstery and a screamin' loud slipcover.

After a few years, I had the chair upholstered in an appropriate fabric for the time. It was the '80s. Need I say more?

In 1997 I started looking into having it reupholstered again. Somehow, in the intervening years, the cost to have this work done had more than doubled. So, I lived with the crappy '80s fabric by using a pillow and throw draped on it to detract from the hideousness.

One day in the early 2000's (the "aughts" as I like to call them), I heard a rumor about an adult education upholstery class at one of the local colleges. According to legend, the class would fill up so fast that, unless you had an "in", you'd never get a space. That scared me off trying to register for a few years. Then, finally, I gave it a shot. Sure enough - class, full. Waiting list, long. Argh. That experience delayed me another couple of years. You might infer that I didn't really want to take the class and, frankly, you might be a little bit right. Even when learning a useful skill, it's still school.

One day one of my co-workers overheard me talking about this mythical upholstery class. Turns out that his wife was one of the lucky few who had actually taken the class for a few semesters. He offered to talk to her and get some insider info for me. Believe it or not, it was like negotiating detente in the Middle East. He would come back to me with questions. I send answer back through him. Eventually, I got the name of the instructor (there were a few - some better than others), a class day and location, and some tips on how to get in. My procrastination paid off and, using the tips provided, I managed to get in to the fall semester 2009.

1st completed project - Grandma's chair
So began my upholstery education. I didn't want to tackle the crazy wing back chair first, just in case I sucked at this art, so I did a chair that had belonged to one of my grandmothers. Turns out, upholstering is way easier than one would imagine and project number one came out pretty good. Second semester, I did the wing back. The damn thing was so complicated that I'm actually just finishing it now - three classes into third semester. Next on the docket is a Lincoln rocker that I'm upholstering for a friend.

I have two more chairs of my own that I'd like to upholster and will probably continue to take the class in order to do them. That way, I don't have to buy any equipment and, if I get stuck, the instructor is there to help. This is the the reason people never "drop out" - as long as you've got stuff to recover, you never leave fold. It's rather cult-like actually. Hopefully, when my chairs are complete (two more semesters??) I'll be done with the class - unlike some of my classmates who scour craigslist and yard sales for new projects. I have a total of 1,500 square feet of living space and there's no room for anything else - unless I furnish my unfinished basement.  Hmmm.... maybe I can take the class indefinitely!

- Alex

The Infamous Wing Back - not quite finished.

Tuesday Review

The Ooo! Shiny! team was talking the other day and we decided that we wanted to do some reviews. We don't want our blog to be a "review site" but we'd like to occasionally share our thoughts on stuff that we've tried. Thus, the "Tuesday Review" was born.

Starting today, the second Tuesday of each month will feature a review of some sort. It might be a product, a book, a website, or even a movie. Feel free to let us know what you'd like us to try - we'll happily be your guinea pigs (within reason!) Regardless of the review, it will be something that both of us have done/used/read/etc. and we'll both weigh in with our opinions. Oh...and we're going to use an "...out of 5" system. Not terribly original, we grant you, but a tried and true method of ranking stuff.

With that, let's begin with a book review:

Embroidery Companion: Classic Designs for Modern Living by Alicia Paulson

Cassandra's score: 4 out of 5

I’m going to just come out and say that I’m a big fan of this book. It has all the components that I look for in a reference book. A little history, a comprehensive section on tools and techniques, and some practical, simple projects.

I am embarrassed to admit that one of the issues I have with a lot of reference books is that they supply too much historical information. Unless I’m writing a research paper on crewelwork, I really don’t want to read 40 pages on the aristocracy of the Middle Ages and their wall hangings. As interesting as that may be… dude, I just want to put some needle to cloth and make something pretty today. This book has the emphasis on technique, and I love that. This is how I get inspired to design my own projects.

I am also impressed with the variety of schools of embroidery covered in this book. Ms. Paulson includes all of the more well-known techniques like basic decorative embroidery and counted cross stitch as well as covering the less-known crewel and blackwork. This is really helpful because I have some project ideas in my head right now and it makes it so easy for me to be able to choose the perfect technique to execute my designs.

The last thing I would like to mention is the projects. While the style of the author may not be 100% in league with my own, that’s really not that important to me. Most of the projects can easily be modified for my taste, with this said, however, a lot of them I do find quite lovely. I am particularly taken with the Karin Curtains, Harvest Apron, and Country-Time Quilt. The projects are practical and interesting. I think I can get a lot of inspiration and fun from this book.

- Cassandra

Alex's score: 4 out of 5

This "four out of five" rating didn't come as easily for me as it did for my blog-mate. I had to dig through my personal preferences to discover the true value in this book. And, I'm still not entirely sure that Ms. Paulson doesn't deserve one fewer star for the bits that I, personally, don't care for. But I will use my super-power of objectivity for the sake of the review.

Here's the deal... The book kicks off with a long auto-biographical preface about Ms Paulson's path to embroidery. I'm not a fan of her long-form writing style - she's entirely too enamored of twee craft metaphors like, "...when I unravel the skein of my childhood memories..." (ugh) Plus, I feel that taking three full pages (six columns) in an instructional craft book to tell your personal story is a tad self-indulgent. Of course, this is her book and if she wants to tell the entire world about her life and her health issues, that's her right. Based on the popularity of daytime television talk shows, I'm sure that most people find this kind of thing "inspiring"... I'm just not one of 'em. Frankly, I  can't believe her editor didn't suggest paring it down a bit.

My other struggle is with the patterns themselves. They're very folksy, "olde tyme" styles that are, quite simply, not my taste.

All this said, once Ms. Paulson gets into actual instruction, the book's beauty begins to unfold. This is, no kidding, one of the best instructional books I've ever seen. From the introductory pages in which we learn basic terminology, tools, and technique to the closing pages containing a resource directory, everything is clear, concise, and well-written. The accompanying illustrations are equally admirable. They're lovely and simple and they dovetail beautifully with the overall book design, which says "crafty" but it doesn't get in the way of the book's purpose.

The other thing I really appreciate is that Ms. Paulson includes a short history of, and patterns for, four methods of "embroidery" - classic embroidery, cross-stitch, crewel, and blackwork. Each style provides a different character to the needlework being done and it's fantastic to have all four in one, convenient book.

So, regardless of my personal feeling about Ms. Paulson's narrative writing style and the designs included, I would highly recommend this book for both the beginner and intermediate embroidery enthusiast. There's a ton of valuable content and it's presented in such a clear and concise way that you simply can't go wrong.

- Alex

On the Mend

I am not, by nature, a long-haul knitter. I like mittens, anything for children and the occasional grown-up sized sweater on large needles. In 2008 I finished a knitting project that seemed like it would never end... an afghan. It was a request of my husband, how could I say no to my guy? Luckily, I found a pattern that was "patchwork", like a quilt, and was able to knit squares and assemble later. It made the project much less daunting because I could stop and start in-between other small projects. Here is a lovely photo I took a couple years ago for my ravelry page:

After a few years and a few nice comments and fav's on ravelry... well, lets just say, the old fella just ain't what he used to be. There are some holes, and a bunch of pilling. It's really sort of sad.

Yeah, this is more of what it looks like now. An embarrassment:

So, I know the job ahead of me. I purchased a restora® sweater brick and found some of the leftover afghan yarn in my stash. This week, I will take on the slow, tedious job of bringing the afghan back to something a little closer to it's glory days. All those hours of knitting and seaming, they can't be gone in a matter of a few years. This crisis deserves my attention.

As always, this sort of thing gets me thinking. How can I have a knit-by-me item that's been around long enough for this sort of mending? At times, it seems just like yesterday that I learned to knit. All those dropped stitches, purls where the knits should be, and all of the other mistakes made by a new knitter that require fretful trips to the nearest lys. I've come a long way over the past 7, or so, years. This project was one of the first ones that I was really proud to say I made myself. It took a while to get to the point I'm at now, but I'm so glad I stuck with knitting and worked through my frustration. Any of you readers who don't think you have the patience to learn knitting, think again. It just takes some time and then like magic, it is second nature.

So, this week while I'm on the mend myself (from something minor, no worries)....I will spend quality time with an old friend. I think I've been crafty naval-gazing for enough of my posts now! My next post will be project related...I promise!

– Cassandra

Oh the Horror!

Horror movies are an acquired taste. Their appeal is in their ability to get our adrenaline flowing and, I suppose, some folks don't want to feel that rush (although I can't imagine why.) When watching a horror movie with a group - especially in a crowded theater - the best part of the experience is when something really scary happens and a room full of people jump or scream, and then laugh like crazy. We do love a good fright.

Within the horror genre, there are myriad sub-genres offering something for everyone. You don't like things that jump out at you? Fine. We've got creepy crawlies that come at you slowly. Blood make you queasy? Okay, no slasher films for you. How about a nice psychological horror film? From the base to the elegant, there are scary films for every taste. Me, I like a subtle horror best - preferably with some thinly-veiled cultural analogy or religious theme - think Rosemary's Baby or The Omen (the original, please.)

Ages ago, a friend of mine announced that he'd never really seen a horror film. He might as well have thrown an actual gauntlet on the ground, the challenge was so obvious. I set out to come up with a list of palatable horror movies containing at least one representative film from each sub-genre. It stands to reason that I would only include movies that I considered to be superior or classic in their category. Please note that these two things can be mutually exclusive. Sometimes the best horror films are really, really bad.

So, in no particular order, here's the list I provided my friend. Through the miracle of Alex-never-trashes-any-email, I still had it in all its gory glory. Each movie's release year is listed (in case there were other versions) as is the sub-genre that the movie belongs to.

A final word about the list...It's my list. My taste. My opinion. For example, you'll notice there's only one slasher movie on here. I'm not a fan. So don't shoot me for not listing Saw/Friday the 13th/Halloween/et al. I'm sure you have your favorites too and I welcome your comments. If you think I missed a great film or a classic, put it in the comments section and tell me why I should love it as much as you do. 

Without further ado, your horror movie starter list. Enjoy!

- Alex

Lost Boys (1987) - vampire
Pet Sematary (1989) - undead/zombie
Seven (1995) - pyscho killer (Qu'est-ce que c'est?)
Salems Lot (1979) - vampire
Phantasm (1979) - I don't know what category to put this in to.
Reanimator (1985) - scientist reanimates human flesh
Carrie (1976) - paranormal/psycho killer
The Omen (1976) - religious/demon
Rosemary's Baby (1968) - religious/demon
Hell Raiser (1987) - monsters from another dimension
The Serpent and the Rainbow (1988) - religious/undead
Believers (1987) - religious
28 Days Later (2002) - virus apocalypse
The Thing (1982) - alien/monster
of the Damned (1960) - alien
Evil Dead (1981) - monster/demon
Evil Dead II (1987) - monster/demon
Army of Darkness (Evil Dead III) (1992) - monster/demon
Invasion of the Body Snatchers (1956 & 1977) - alien
The Mist (2007) - monster
The Blair Witch Project (1999) - witchcraft
Frailty (2001) - demon
Psycho (1960) - pyscho
Alien (1979) - alien
The Shining (1980) - ghost
Severance (2007) - slasher (this is a British film)

Where have you been all my life?

A couple weeks ago, I had enough. I was cranking away on Finn's holiday sweater and discovered that I needed to ball up another skein of yarn. I grabbed a new skein of Classic Elite Provence and started winding up a ball, by hand. In no time at all, the skein had become a tangled mess. So, instead of spending my evening watching TV and knitting, I was watching TV and spending 2 hours untangling a monster. Completely inefficient. I have precious little time to work on my projects, between work and family, so that sort of time suck really gets to me.

The next day I started to think about ball winders and swifts. For my non-knitting friends, that is a contraption that winds your hank of yarn into a tidy ball... with ease and speed. The problem is, they are not cheap. Every time I have a little money in my pocket to spend on my crafting, I consider this purchase. But then, I see some really fun yarn, or fabric, or something catches my eye, and all practicality goes out the window. But, this time, I had had it. I was serious. I went online and started pricing out expensive and unsexy winders and swifts.

Yikes! I saw a sale! Knitpicks had their $84.99 swifts for $50.00. My birthday was a week away so I decided to make my mom's life easier and send her a link to the sale page. (She's a busy woman you know.) She happily ordered me a ball winder and swift and had it shipped right to me. I got it last night. Oh man, I have a new love.

Knit Picks Ball Winder and Swift

I joyfully wound more balls in the last 2 days than I need, I couldn't help myself! I cannot believe that I put off this purchase for so long. This is making my life so much easier. And it got me to thinking about all my favorite crafting items, and how unsexy they are. My seam ripper, my good scissors that must not be touched by any other household member by penalty of death, my knitting bag and needles. Those are the items that 40 years from now, I will look at and muse about how long I've had them, how many projects they have seen come and go, and how much they have meant to me. I can only imagine that people who love to build things feel this way about their tools and bakers feel this way about their pans. Only crafters wax poetic about their ball winders and swifts.

– Cassandra

"Paging Dr. Freud..."

So.... Cassandra and I saw this the other day:

We both laughed. Then I said something like, "That's a blog post waiting to happen!" - at which point we turned the car around and took photos.

We're always looking for material.

But what, exactly, can I say about this? It is, at once, creative and fun as well as silly and non-conformist. My inner child loves it but my outer grown-up thinks it's ridiculous. I'm also not-so-secretly jealous of this person's ability to freely express their "art" without fear of judgment. You don't drive around in a rubber ducky car doing errands unless you have a pretty healthy sense of self - or an extreme desire to be the center of attention.

So, who needs the therapy here? Me, with my repressed desire to express my creativity or the duck-car owner with their "obsession."  I'm pretty sure that the answer is "me."

Regardless, the duck car definitely makes for interesting conversation fodder like "at what point does an interest or hobby become an obsession?"

I believe that, while some creatives are truly obsessed, most are just super-comfortable with their choices. Obsession by definition requires a certain amount of pain - either in the uncontrollable desires that create the obsession or in the aftermath of the obsession (drained bank account, an inability to take care of oneself, alienation of others, etc.) I'm guessing that duck-car owner is probably just fine with the choice to create this particular piece of art. I doubt that he or she is obsessively scouring every possible outlet for new and different ducks. I can't imagine that he or she has spent too much money on the creation of the duck car. And, I can pretty much guarantee, that there's little to no pain being generated by flaunting the duck car in public. Except for maybe the embarrassment that duck-car owner's mom probably feels. As a matter of fact, I imagine that duck car brings a lot of joy wherever it goes. 

Cassandra and I certainly enjoyed it. 

So...let your freak flag fly. Wear purple every day. Collect cow figurines until your house is littered with them. Knit yourself a Dr Who scarf (only 12 ft long!) In the end, our obsessions aren't obsessions as long as they're bringing us, or those around us, happiness. Just remember to turn it off if it starts getting in the way of your real life or someone might sic Dr Freud on you.

- Alex

It's Spookytober!

Here at Ooo! Shiny!, we REALLY love Halloween. We love it so much that it pretty much runs into our daily lives all year long in some way or another. The traditions, the movies and TV shows, the decorations, and of course the stories. We thought that. for the month of October, we would celebrate the spooky by reserving Friday's posts for Halloween-inspired topics. I am starting the month off by posting about a favorite subject of mine, podcasts.

 I listen to podcasts, spooky and otherwise, all week long. To me there is nothing better on a workday afternoon than making a beautiful cup of tea, dialing up a spooky podcast and getting down to some graphic design at my desk. Ahhh, heaven.

Here are 3 of my favorites at the moment:

Darkness Radio
This talk show is so much fun. I have been listening to it almost since it's inception. Darkness Radio Dave interviews guests on topics that range from ghosts, UFO's, cryptozoology, etc. I enjoy some topics more than others, but that's okay, this show is very entertaining.

They have had some format/time changes over the years, but, they currently broadcast over the radio every weeknight from 11pm until midnight out of Minnesota. I listen to the shows as a podcast download the next day. This works out great because they edit out the commercials and I can just hit play and not worry about skipping ahead.

Anything Ghost
Lex Wahl reads stories of first-hand paranormal experiences sent in by listeners. Occasionally, a listener sends in a mp3 of their own telling of the story (which I just love, there is nothing quite like hearing someone tell it themselves). Sometimes the stories make me roll my eyes while I am debunking their experience in my head, and sometimes they make me say holy *@#%! Each episode is roughly an hour long and is peppered through with Lex's original score, very ethereal and creepy-lovely.

The Moonlit Road
What I have to say about this one is WOW! This podcast's theme is ghost stories and strange folktales from the American south. Each episode is read by native southern professional storytellers. The production value is amazing. Trust me, if you listen to all of the past episodes, you will be waiting very impatiently for the next new one to be posted. Who knew that the southern-style spooky was so intriguing? All I can say is, they do it up right down there!

So, give it a try! Download a podcast, or two, and give a listen. In your car, at your desk, or with knitting in your lap (if you're lucky). These podcasts are a sure way to get you in the mood for Spooktober! If you have any other spooky-casts to add into the mix, post them in the comments. We'd love to hear about them!

– Cassandra