Monday, July 6, 2015

"Dear Entrants, ..." - Part Three

I recently did two days of judging at a nearby county fair, as I have done for many years. This year, I judged almost exclusively paper crafts, including scrapbook pages, cards, mini albums, quilling, and more. It was equal parts fun, difficult and exhausting.

Odd things often happen to me when I judge. Last year's... um... infestation... was, well, memorable. This year, a stranger who was judging something completely different than me in a different building came right up to me, her face inches from mine, and demanded to know, "Are you the gourd judge?!" I was unsure how to answer, as I was not exactly clear on what she was talking about. She took my confused silence as a negative, issuing the parting comment, "Let me know if you find out who the gourd judge is!" Um... sure. Will do. I never learned who the gourd judge was or what business this other judge had related to gourds.

In 2013, after completing my judging I felt compelled to write an open letter to fair contestants. You can read that here. I wrote another letter last year, which is here. Today I'm sharing "Dear Entrants,..." Part Three.


Dear Entrants,

Thank you so much for entering your projects in the county fair! I appreciate that all of you have taken the time and made the effort to share your creations with us. It's your support that has kept our fair thriving for generations.

Judging at the fair is hard work. I do it because I love fairs, enjoy seeing the many talents in our area, and like using my expertise to ensure that your efforts are judged fairly and honestly. (Of course, I never turn down the money or the free lunch either!) I've been judging for many, many years and this was the most difficult year by far. Why? Well, imagine looking at 12 beautiful apples, that all look perfect at first glance, with the task of accurately identifying the three very best. I might not think Golden Delicious is as inherently pretty or tasty as Fuji, but does that mean that a perfect Golden Delicious should always lose to a Fuji? Of course not. Instead, I have to find the tiniest flaw that makes one objectively better in some way than another. It's not easy.

Entrants, your projects were like the seemingly-perfect apples. I had to put aside my personal taste and look for the tiniest details (perfectly straight cuts, pristine projects, not a trace of visible adhesive, etc) in order to rank your projects. There weren't any rotten apples in the bunch that I could immediately rule out. No-  I was blown away by the quality of the entries this year. You've outdone yourselves in terms of creativity, workmanship and attention to detail.

You listened to what your judge told you last year. Not one of you turned in a sticky project. Nothing was infested (*shudder*). Glue gun strings were practically non-existent. No one submitted an offensive or inappropriate project. Thank you. Even though you made my job harder, I greatly appreciate it.

I can't wait to see what you submit next year!

Your Judge

Friday, July 3, 2015


Steve has a new hobby.

I do too.

Remember back at Christmas when we gave Steve's parents, siblings and aunt a 'Choose Your Own Adventure' gift? Steve's mom and Aunt Lois joined Trevor and me at Beads on Main to make necklaces. Steve's dad, two sisters and brother-in-law joined him at The Brewmeister for a brewing class. They loved the class so much that they got together a week later at my inlaws' house to try it on their own, without an instructor. Trevor was sick, so I had to stay home with him instead of joining the group. It was disappointing, as I was very interested in the brewing process. Little did I know that Steve would be hooked! He signed up for The Kitchn's Beer School, bought more equipment, and started brewing at home.  

The process is very interesting. 

Steve has been brewing 1-gallon batches. The first time, he threw out the spent grains after brewing. Since then, I've been experimenting with ways to use the spent grain for cooking. I suspected (correctly) that the most common use for spent grains was in bread. I read through a bunch of recipes and decided to try the Brewer's Bread Recipe, which uses a whopping 3 cups of spent grain. It made two large, round loaves (one of which is pictured above).

But breadbaking is not a new hobby for me. (Have I really NEVER blogged about this?! I'll fix that soon.) So while I'll continue making spent grain breads, I'm trying recipes that really push me out of my comfort zone. There are some fascinating spent grain recipes out there. More to come!

Thursday, July 2, 2015

Black Velvet Fireworks Paintings

Fun fact: Other than school pictures, Trevor has never had a his picture taken professionally. He's never been to a portrait studio and probably doesn't know they exist. Steve takes all of Trevor's portraits here, with a black velvet backdrop. We take our own family portrait for our Christmas card, too, using his camera's self-timer. 

Every once in a while, Steve cuts off a chunk from the roll of black velvet because it's no longer pristine enough to use as a backdrop. He recently gave me a few yards, suggesting that I should come up with a craft using it. Hmm... what to do with black velvet? Paintings, obviously! But what to paint? Not Elvis. Not dogs playing poker. How about fireworks?! Yes!

I did a quick Google search to look at images of fireworks and was totally inspired. I particularly loved photos where the fireworks were reflected in water. Amongst the many photographs, I saw a few paintings as well. This one caught my eye. I thought it would be a lot of fun to make our own versions when our friends Rebecca and Cailei came over. (It's pretty much a given that if you come to my house, you'll be: a) doing a craft; b) eating something experimental; or c) involved in some sort of competition. My friends know to expect any one of those... or all three!)

Here's how my painting turned out:

Materials: black velvet (our pieces are approximately 10" x 13"), craft paint (white, green, yellow, red and blue), toothpicks and brushes

Begin by using the toothpick to drag a line of white paint horizontally across the velvet. (I drew my line too high. It looks best if it is right at the bottom third.) Use a paintbrush to create the fireworks. My technique was to dip in paint, dab on the velvet, then drag outward repeatedly, so that the paint was primarily in the center of the fireworks.

Each time I create a burst, I made a horizontal reflection in the water with the same color. Lower fireworks reflect closer to the white line, while higher fireworks reflect lower on the paper.

Keep adding different colors of fireworks and reflections. Don't be afraid to layer them over each other.

When you're happy with your fireworks, add contrails or stars using the toothpick. Done!

Here are the rest of the paintings. This is Rebecca's:

This is Cailei's:

And this is Trevor's:

I love how these turned out! I still have a lot of black velvet left. Any suggestions of what we should paint next?

Wednesday, July 1, 2015

Book Review: Paper Fun Mania

We've been having unusually hot weather here. But because of the drought, the fountains and sprayers at the water-play parks are turned off. So when Trevor and my goddaughters Kylinn and Ellia got together for a playdate, we chose the shadiest park around, in hopes that the equipment would be cool enough to use. It was, but after running around for awhile the kids were overheated and just wanted to sit in the shade. They were thrilled that I'd brought supplies to craft using Paper Fun Mania

Paper Fun Mania is the 4th book written by my Fun Family Crafts boss, Amanda Formaro. I received a complimentary copy from the publisher, but I have no obligation to review it. I am sharing it with you because I really like it and think you will too. 

To be honest, I wasn't sure if we'd get as much out of Paper Fun Mania as we did from Amanda's previous books (Rubber Band Mania, Duct Tape Mania and Button Mania). I'm primarily a paper crafter. Trevor and I have done most, if not all, of the crafts pictured on the cover. But Amanda did not disappoint. Even for a very experienced paper crafter like myself, there were projects in the book I hadn't done. 

For the first project, I chose the Blow Rocket. I spread the supplies out on the table and handed the book to Trevor (just turned 9) and Kylinn (turning 9 in a few weeks). I explained to them that this was a new book aimed at kids 6-12 and that I wanted to see if it was written clearly enough for them to follow the instructions and make the project independently. They got right to work.

Trevor was able to complete his rocket without assistance.

Kylinn needed help gauging how much envelope corner to cut to make the tip of the rocket, but otherwise had no problem. (You can see multiple rejected envelope corners on the table around her.) She used markers to decorate her rocket and eventually turned the scraps of paper into a cool launching pad!

Ellia (turning 6 next month) needed quite a bit of assistance, but was still able to make a rocket she loved.

I tried repeatedly to get photos of the kids all launching their Blow Rockets at the same time, but they were launching and running and giggling and moving so much that it was impossible to get them in the same frame, facing the same direction, and not blurry. I gave up and focused on one kid at a time.

The Blow Rockets were a huge hit! The directions and pictures were clear and all the kids felt successful. This was a great project to bring along to a park. 

I'll be sharing other projects from Paper Fun Mania eventually. It's a great book (as the cover says, "Hours of Tear-ific fun guaranteed!"). I love all the tips and trivia sprinkled throughout the book. Did you know that Benjamin Franklin was the first person to make and sell paper in the United States? I had no idea. 

Paper Fun Mania would make a great gift for a boy or girl. It is available for pre-order on Amazon (affiliate link below) and will be in stores such as Target and Walmart in August. 


Tuesday, June 30, 2015

43 New-to-Me ... #22 Rambutan

After trying and liking what I discovered to be overripe feijoa, I was eager to get my hands on a perfectly-ripe one to see how it was supposed to taste. I started stalking the produce aisle (not for the first time), but the feijoa never reappeared. However, my disappointment turned to glee when I spotted something different where the feijoa had been.... rambutan!!  

I'd had rambutan on my must-try list for years. I'd almost given up hope and was considering trying canned rambutan as part of 43 New-to-Me, but I knew that, at best, the canned version would pale in comparison to the fresh version. I'm so glad my patience was rewarded!

I bought the two rambutan that looked the most dissimilar, hoping that one of the two was properly ripe. As it turned out, both were. They were delicious. The taste and texture were similar to a peeled grape, though not quite as moist. I gave rambutan an 8. Even though I really liked it, I won't be buying it again. Grapes are so similar, but much, much cheaper.

New-to-me food #22, tasted, rated and scrapped!