Oh Captain, My Captain (or, Mr. Evans, Ms. Atwell, I made you some hats.)

I just can’t stop making nerdy knitted gifts for famous people.

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There are worse problems to have, I guess.

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Wizard World Comic Con came to New Orleans this past weekend, and I was so ridiculously excited to go and meet Captain America himself, Mr. Chris Evans, that I was practically vibrating. The Captain America franchise is, hands-down, the greatest part of the already great Marvel universe, at least to me, and I wanted to make sure that I showed my love in knitted form to Chris Evans.

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There were some mis-steps at first.

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But eventually I came up with something that I felt was ridiculously nerdy, yet classy enough to wear out in public like a normal person. Simply, wearing the Captain’s shield right up on top of your head.

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While staring down lovingly at your tiny Captain America Pop figurine, of course. No, it’s not creepy.

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See, he’s okay with it.

As the date neared, I realized that not only was this going to be a chance to meet Chris Evans, but that Ms. Hayley Atwell would also be there (In addition to nearly the entire Civil War cast, but I can only knit so many hats.) It was clear that my friend Bailee and I really needed to take advantage of this.

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So now, we needed 4 hats, and I decided that a Winter Soldier/Bucky colorway would be a great idea, too, just so that I could sneak around in the open and wear my fandom a little more subtly.

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I’ve decided to call this original hat design “Oh Captain, My Captain,” because, oh man, I’d follow that guy to the end of the line. Want the pattern? Yeah, you do, especially in an easily printable PDF, right? Here you go!

—–

Some notes about the pattern:

For the white section of the Captain America colorway, I had to use Brown Sheep Nature Spun Worsted since the LYS where I bought the rest of the yarn was unfortunately out of the white in Lamb’s Pride Worsted. Feel free to use whatever fantastic worsted-weight wool blend you’d like.

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The “Star Crown” section combines fair-isle and decreasing at the same time, just to make things extra spicy. The easiest way to ensure that your fair-isle floats don’t get pulled too tight in all that decreasing? Flip your work inside and let the floats run around the outside of the hat. Just don’t pay much attention to the shape of the star in that picture, it’s from an earlier version where the star looked way too much like a flower. Lovely, but not what I was going for.

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Check that float action. Nice.

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If you’re using Lamb’s Pride, or anything other super-saturated wool blend, make sure that you add vinegar to your blocking water to prevent color bleeding in those red/white stripey spots. Otherwise, you’ll be rocking a red, pink, and blue flag up there on your noggin. Lamb’s Pride gives you great suggestions on how to do this on their label, so do give it a look.

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—–

So. On the day of the con, we were so excited to get into the Captain America: Civil War panel that we lined up 3 hours early. It was worth it.

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Pretty good seats, right?

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It was hard to even handle how much awesomeness was up there. The Russo brothers, Anthony Mackie, Frank Grillo, Hayley Atwell, Jeremy Renner, and My Captain. I mean, Chris Evans.

And honestly, I know I’m being very silly and fangirly about Mr. Evans, but I really do admire the man. He’s a huge supporter of Children’s Hospitals, and you all know how much that means to me as a pediatric RN. He has been really up-front about his problems with anxiety, and powers through media events like this one because of how much he enjoys his fans. He has helped a lot of people with their own anxiety issues (including myself) just by being honest and giving people permission to talk about it, which is pretty remarkable, considering that he’s in some of the most highly publicized movies ever made. What a gentleman. He really does deserve to be a superhero.

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He also looks really nice in a grandpa cardigan. Just saying.

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Anthony Mackie, a New Orleans native (who received a ridiculous amount of applause on this fact alone) was the most charming man in the world.

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Hayley Atwell gave thoughtful and impassioned responses to questions, and we all fell in love with her all over again. And Jeremy Renner was a grumpy old man, in the best possible way.

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Bailee got an autograph with Hayley, and I wasn’t supposed to be taking pictures, but it was hard to resist.

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She was just so lovely! She and Bailee had an awesome chat about sharks while her assistant made angry eyes at me as I continued to ignore her.

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We got so much fun merch stuff, and now I have a Captain America pin, shirt, and poster to go along with my nerdy hat. I bought some Steve and Bucky Lego figures, too, while we were getting ourselves ready to meet Chris Evans. So freaking cute, even with that tiny machine gun.

Then, the moment of truth. We waited in line for about 30 minutes for our photo op, and once it started moving, I started panicking. The line was moving waaaaay too fast. It became clear that we would only be getting about 10 seconds in our picture, not nearly enough time to hand these wonderful people some hats and tell them how much they both mean to me.

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Luckily, I had the presence of mind to put the blog address inside all of the hats, so I basically could just throw them to them, which is sort of what ended up happening.

It was our turn, Bailee and I were both adorably wearing our Bucky versions of the hat, and I walked up and said, “I made you guys some hats!”

Chris Evans said, “Oh, cool!”

Hayley Atwell said, “Oh, I’m definitely going to wear this,” and tried to figure out how to get it on properly, but then the photographer was yelling at us to turn and smile.

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And then it was over. If you look way over in the far right-hand edge of the picture, you can see that Chris Evans is holding the hat, but unfortunately, not wearing it for the picture. Oh, and that hand holding the hat was definitely around my shoulders, and I don’t know if I’ve fully recovered from that quite yet.

We were smiling from ear to ear for at least an hour afterwards, rehashing the same 10 seconds over and over. Or maybe that was just me. If anything, I hope that the both of them take a little bit of time to click over here and see how much they are appreciated. To realize that someone enjoys their work so much that they are willing to speed-knit fair-isle with five-point decreasing just to show their love.

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Handknit love is the best kind of love, and I’ll never stop handing it out to those I appreciate and admire. Never.

Thankful for Pie (somehow pie-less, yet still awesome) 2015 Edition

I guess this recurring post is just the year in review now, instead of a declaration of love for pie, due to the fact that I can’t get my act together around Thanksgiving anymore. (Want to see previous years? 2011, 2012, 2013, and 2014.) Nevertheless, you can be thankful for things anytime during the year, right? Right.

Also, even though I know for a fact that Dan and I ate a whole ton of pie this year, there are absolutely zero pictures of pie! I know, right, but my crust game was just seriously lacking this year. Have no fear, no matter what, pie is always right up there on the list of things that I am most grateful for.

Here we go.

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January was a bit of a blur, as I was starting my last semester of nursing school. Pancakes and beignets were enjoyed at every available opportunity.

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Mardi Gras and Valentine’s Day nearly collided in February. Let me tell you, if you want to see some really unflattering pictures, look through about 100 pictures of me screaming at a parade. I get so serious about absolutely needing some useless pieces of plastic, and I look completely deranged. Anyway, Endymion is one of my favorite parades, so it was great to take some out-of-town friends and act like a maniac just to get a frisbee.

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Ha! I lied! Of course, there has to be pie for Pi Day in March! (Seriously, I completely forgot about this amazing pie until just this moment. Bad, bad baker.) My friend Amanda came up with possibly the greatest pie name ever, Chocolate and Cream and Berries? Oh My! Any pie that has punctuation in its title automatically has my vote.

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April brought with it a lovely scarf with beautiful silver beads, of which I still have approximately 8000 and no ideas for how to use them.

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Also, my last nursing school exam! I had a much-needed old fashioned at the St. Roch Market and resisted the urge to run around dancing in the streets.

May? Oh man, May was busy.

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Graduation Day!

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Valedictorian!

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Party planning!

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Rumchata Ribbon Ice Cream! Let’s be honest. The ice cream was the most important. That, and that lemon and blueberry bundt cake up there was pretty amazing, too.

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I designed and made a pretty cowl, Cowl Before the Storm, and it might just actually be cool enough to wear it today when I go see Star Wars.

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We went to see the Rentals! I got to chat with Matt Sharpe a little bit after the show, and I told him that I played through my cassette tape of Return of the Rentals so many times since age 13 that the ribbon snapped.

Yes, that is a Stay-Puft marshmallow man dancing up there during the show. It’s best left unexplained.

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Also, I dressed up like Fox in Socks at some point. Bright red scrub pants are the bomb.

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Dan and I tried to take June as easy as possible.

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I came home from work after midnight on my birthday to find a chocolate cake surprise from my love, plus new vinyl records!

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We did all kinds of coloring. (Yes, I am aware it is super trendy. No, I do not care. Coloring is awesome.)

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I made these awesome alcohol-drenched cupcakes.

In July, I started my new real-world job.

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I never would have predicted that I could simultaneously experience so many different emotions at one job, in even one hour at one job. My previous job life has been mostly retail and management-type stuff, and the feelings range from frustration to accomplishment, but mostly you just want to hurry up and finish things so you can go home.

Working with these kids has been so different and so eye-opening for me. I get to celebrate their victories, sing along to their favorite movies, comfort them and dry their tears, make crazy faces and make them laugh, be the bad guy with the medicine so that their parents can continue to be their heroes…in the short time that I’ve been there, I’ve experienced profound loss and unmitigated joy side-by-side with these children and their families, and even though I come home from night shift exhausted and generally don’t have any idea what time it is anymore, I can definitely say that I made the right decision to work in pediatrics.

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Plus, the hospital is close to my very favorite snoball stand, so that’s a plus. There are no shortcuts to quality.

At the end of July, my grandmother passed away. I actually found out about this the day before I took my NCLEX nursing license test while simultaneously battling terrible food poisoning brought about by Chinese food shrimp. There was a big mess in my brain for a fairly long time.

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She loved Christmas, and I felt her absence from our table this year strongly.

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Making pretty scarves helps you get through these things, even though it’s August and way too hot outside.

September?

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A trip to Los Angeles to deliver a very special scarf

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…to a very special person.

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I met the love of my life at the wax museum. It was hard to let go.

And then, the Emmys? What?

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I was just as surprised as you, Jamie Lee.

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Such a crazy trip, courtesy of my brother and sister-in-law, who seem to have created a habit of making opportunities for me to get to go do amazing things. You guys are great.

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In October, my baby Bowie had his 8th birthday. Here are some more adorable cat pictures, just because.

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Dang, those cats are cute.

November started with more alcoholic cupcakes.

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There’s still a lot of winter left to make your own RumChata cupcakes, so you should get on that.

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In December, so much blanket knitting (which you all just read about yesterday, right?), plus carouselfies…

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…more beignets and coffee…

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…and a large pack of angry cranes that followed Dan for about 10 minutes, thinking he would share his beignets.

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Plus, super secret work on a super secret project that I am terrible at keeping secrets about. Let’s just say, it involves a certain Avenger with a propensity for wearing patriotic colors, plus his troubled half-robotic-armed friend. That’s pretty vague, right?

—–

It’s been a year of ups and downs, that’s for sure, and as I looked through all of my pictures, I was struck by how much I didn’t really document things much this year. It just felt like a whirlwind to finally finish school and start a new life in nursing, or perhaps I am also lazy and attracted more to sleep than to putting my life back together again after school.

Now that life is starting to reassemble around my new job, I feel like I’m getting back into the swing of making things. Hopefully, 2016 will be full of pies (and I’ll actually remember to take pictures of them), knitting, hugs, and love, not just for me but for all of you out there. I’m just itching to get out there and make things already, and I can’t wait to show you when I do.

Squares and Squares and Squares

Or maybe, more properly, Rectangles and Rectangles and Rectangles.

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Now, I have knitted a number of projects in the past with finicky finishing work. A Dale of Norway ski sweater, complete with terrifying steeks and zippers. Tiny toys, with hand-stitched felt eyes and itty-bitty ears. Duplicate stitched snowflakes for days on end. I could go on and on.

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However, now that I have completed a Warm Up America! Afghan…I feel as though I have summited some sort of insane mountain of mattress-stitch achievement.

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Let me step back and explain.

My brother got married back in September of last year, and in proper fashion, I told him and his wife that I would be happy to make them a new afghan for their house and their new life together. Knowing that my sister-in-law is partial to purple, I decided to go with something patchworky with greens and browns, too, to match their decor. However, all of this planning in my mind for the perfect blanket for them had to go on the back burner while I finished nursing school and then got a real-life job. What I originally thought would end up being a first anniversary present instead ended up being a Christmas present, a fact that I know is making all of the knitters nod their head in solidarity.

Projects like this seem so simple at first. You get pulled in to the allure of the patchwork square. It’s the same seductive pull that makes you start working on something that involves thousands of granny squares, not even thinking about how all of those squares are going to put themselves together.

You start thinking about what would be the perfect afghan and think back on the beautiful one you saw in the fantastic book Knitting for Peace, the Warm Up America! Afghan…8 different types of squares with simple stitch patterns, perfect for beginners or for some mindless knitting while you watch Jessica Jones on Netflix.

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You see all of those little squares and think, “Oh, it’ll take no time at all to make one of those! And they’ll be small, and portable! I can knit those anywhere! Gosh darn it, I am so smart. There’s no way this will backfire.”

You order up a whole boatload of Knit Picks Brava Worsted so that you can get started. You figure, “Oh, acrylic will be such a good choice for this. Easy to wash and take care of, tons of color options. Yes, this will be fantastic.” (Note: Knit Picks Brava is pretty fantastic, don’t get me wrong. However, acrylic will come back to bite you in the ass later, don’t you worry.)

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You start cranking out squares like it’s going out of style. (I know some people want to know the colors, so here we go: Alfalfa, Almond, Brindle, Cream, Dublin, Mulberry, Peapod, and Sienna, 3 skeins each.)

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You knit squares (rectangles, actually) at every opportunity, and since you are now working as a night-shift pediatric RN, you have lots of weird time alone at night to get to know these squares since you can’t force the entire house of Dan and cats to get onto your new bizarro schedule.

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The cats try their best to help. They are unsuccessful.

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You realize quickly that every single “square” of this pattern is completely different in terms of gauge, especially row gauge (which is something that knitters really don’t end up having to think about or compensate much for, which made it even more crazy-making), and that you have to do a fair amount of math to get each square to come out to roughly the same length.

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You take the time out of making squares to procrastinate a little and make a little chart to figure out just how many more squares you need to make after you are done procrastinating. You start kicking yourself for deciding that you were going to make the blanket a little bit larger than the pattern originally called for, mostly because when they provide 8 different stitch patterns but tell you to only make 49 squares, your brain explodes a little bit. 64 squares is much more pleasing to your psyche in terms of a finished project, but when you realize how many more squares you have left to go…you start to hate squares.

All of those beautiful patchwork blankets in your head start to taunt you and mock you for your hubris. You keep knitting until you just can’t knit any more, slogging your way through stupid, stupid, lovely garter stitch in the name of love for your family.

And when you finally finish…

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There is absolutely no relief at all. Now you have to join those squares together. Those squares whose sizes have seemingly absolutely nothing at all to do with one another, no matter how good your math or tension was.

That stack of lovely squares right there is a bit deceiving. The squares come of the needles looking a lot more like this:

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Now, if this was wool or cotton, our blocking situation would just be washing and laying things out, or perhaps a light iron. However, acrylic makes you work hard for the kind of squariness you desire. You dutifully haul out the steam iron and blocking wires and T-pins.

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Every square needs to be pinned out to match the 7″x9″ dimensions needed, some adopting this position easier than others. Then, (and don’t freak out), you use your steam iron to intentionally ruin your fabric.

It’s called “killing” acrylic, and usually it’s a terrible thing to accidentally do to a beloved article of clothing, melting the plastic in the yarn. However, in a controlled environment, the right amount of heat (as little as possible to make steam and staying away from actually touching the fabric) and dedication will coax those squares into flattening out their edges, opening up their stitch patterns, and fitting themselves into the straight edges and corners you need to sew them up without wanting to gouge your eyes out.

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You do this, 3 squares at a time, until everything is perfect and lovely and you are so done.

But, you are definitely nowhere near done. Now…the sewing.

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You lay out all of those squares, trying to make things pleasantly random, taking care not to let 2 of the same color or stitch patterns touch each other. (I did originally try to make each row and column have only one of each color or pattern, but it turned into an endless unwinnable sudoku game because I absolutely did not want to do diagonal stripes. I settled for each row having only 1 of each color, and then let the chips fall where they may for everything else, just to save my sanity.) You put off the inevitable sewing process just a little longer by taking moody, artful pictures of your little squares all lined up.

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Mattress stitching is your stitch of choice, of course, because you want everything to line up as nicely as possible. (You must go here and learn its ways right this second, if you don’t already know.) The pattern gives you very, very little guidance here, but joining the squares into columns actually goes really fast and easy, due to all of the squares being either 35 or 36 stitches wide. Sewing things up when they are actually the same exact size is quick and satisfying.

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Zipping up those seams feels pretty good.

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The vertical seams are not the same cakewalk. First things first, you have to pin out the seam between squares.

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Then, you sew up the sides using the ladders between the first and second stitches from the edge of the row, zig-zagging between the squares.

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But, as you remember from earlier, every single stitch pattern is a completely different length in terms of number of rows, so you’ve got to do some creative stitching.

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You watch your pins carefully, and try to see if they are leaning in one direction or another. In the above picture, the pin is leaning to the left, meaning that there’s more fabric up there to be incorporated into the seam. Therefore, you need to fit more of those rows into a smaller amount of rows on the bottom (picking up 2 ladders on the top and just 1 on the bottom) to ease everything in.

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When it goes right, it goes so right and you feel like a finishing genius. When it doesn’t, you think, “Eh, people don’t look at the corners anyway, right? I don’t need to take a picture of that one. Or that one. Or that one back there.”

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What corners? Low-angle photography makes corners not matter, right?

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Finish up the edges with 2 rows of single crochet, just to make those corners nice and neat, and then hit it again with a tiny blast of steam so that everything lays down nice.

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Then, take a breath and weave in all those ends.

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There are a lot, so it would be good for you to take some breaks between and do this as you go along as a relief from the sewing-up frustration.

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Wait. What frustration? It all melts away when you see that final finished project, exactly as you envisioned it in your head.

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Fields of green and brown and purple, looking like farmland from an airplane.

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Those slightly wonky edges and corners just don’t matter anymore, because it’s so perfect all of a sudden.

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You know that your brother and sister-in-law are going to absolutely love it, and all of the work is worth it. The endorphins kick in and shape the experience in such a way that you start to think, you know, I should make another one of those for Dan and I, as soon as I have some more free time.

But maybe in cotton next time.

RumChata Cupcakes!

It’s my friend Brittany’s birthday today, known mostly to you readers as the genius who came up with the RumChata Ice Cream challenge to which I valiantly arose during my graduation party.

That giant bottle of RumChata that I bought to make the ice cream has been hanging out in my refrigerator ever since, just waiting for the opportunity to become some other sort of alcoholic dessert. I’d say that a 30th birthday is a good enough occasion to break it out again, yes? Yes.

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Now, Brittany has a deep appreciation for all things cinnamon, including Fireball and RumChata. Don’t believe me?

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I wasn’t the only one who thought that it would make a good gift.

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Shots of RumChata are a something of a tradition with us.

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She’s also a bit of a cupcake connoisseur, so it seemed like the perfect idea to conjure up some RumChata Cupcakes to bring to the party.

There’s plenty of alcohol in the actual cakes themselves, plus extra brushed on top, and then mixed up into the buttercream frosting, too, as well as a great deal of cinnamon.

RumChata Cupcakes
adapted from Betty Crocker’s Starlight Yellow Cake and Vanilla Buttercream Frosting

Makes 24 cupcakes

Ingredients:
Cupcakes:
2 1/4 cups all-purpose flour
1 1/2 cups sugar
1/2 cup butter, softened
1 1/4 cups RumChata liqueur (plus about 1/4 cup extra for brushing)
3 1/2 tsp. baking powder
1 tsp. salt
1 tsp. vanilla
3 large eggs
1 heaping tsp. cinnamon (plus extra for sprinkling)

RumChata Buttercream Frosting:
3 cups powdered sugar
1/3 cup butter, softened
1 1/2 tsp. vanilla
2-3 tbsp. RumChata liqueur

Directions:
Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Prepare 2 12-cup muffin pans with cupcake liners.

In large bowl, beat all cupcake ingredients together on low speed for 30 seconds, and then at high speed for about 3 minutes, until smooth and custardy. I like to start with the sugar and butter first, then the eggs, then everything else, but whatever works best for you.

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Whatever you do, don’t trust the lid on the baking powder, no matter how well it seems to be attached.

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Divide the batter evenly into the 24 cupcake liners, being sure to only fill each between 1/2 and 3/4 full.

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Put your face really, really close to the pan and get in a really good sniff of that cinnamon-y goodness before you have to put it in the oven.

Bake the cupcakes for approximately 25 minutes, until a toothpick inserted comes out clean and the tops spring back when touched lightly in their centers. Allow the cakes to cool completely.

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While the cakes are cooling, it’s frosting time!

In a medium bowl, beat the powdered sugar and softened butter together on low-medium speed until well-incorporated, then add the vanilla and 1 tbsp. of the RumChata.

Then, gradually add in enough RumChata, by drops, until the frosting is smooth and spreadable. I lost track of exactly how much I put in there, but I don’t think that I went more than 4 tbsp. You’ll know when you get there.

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Now, take your cooled cupcakes and poke some holes in the tops with a toothpick.

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Be sure to notice that your cats are up to something over in the corner, and have a balanced, logical discussion with them about how they shouldn’t try to eat cobwebs.

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Then, brush on a generous layer of RumChata and allow it to soak in a little bit.

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If you don’t let them dry a little bit, the tops of the cake will rip right off when you try to put the frosting on, so be patient if possible.

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I did end up having a tiny bit of RumChata left over after brushing all the cakes. You can guess what I did with that.

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If you said drink it straight from the measuring cup, you are correct.

Get a nice heaping scoop of frosting on a flat spatula and smear it on top of your cupcakes in a rustic fashion.

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Or, if you want to get fancy and pipe it on, go right ahead. However, this frosting recipe gives you just barely enough to get the tops done this way, so if you want something more elaborate, you should probably double the recipe.

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Then, with all your pretty little cakes in a row, sprinkle a touch of cinnamon on top of each one.

Pretty!

Now, what do these taste like? Here we have a stop-motion reaction shot, courtesy of the birthday girl.

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When they’re baking, they smell like butter and cinnamon and rum and Cinnamon Toast Crunch, all of the good things in the world. They taste that way, too, let me assure you.

Later on in the night, Brittany told me that they were the best thing that she had ever put in her mouth, and then she reminded me again later on Facebook. I’m not sure if I would go that far, but yes, they are definitely something special. They might be worth buying another giant bottle of RumChata for.

That Time I Went to the Emmys

Oh yeah, that’s right. I went to the Emmys, you guys. Let’s pretend to be cool about it.

So, my trip to Los Angeles started out with a ride in a plane, all by my lonesome since Dan couldn’t come on this trip. I already dislike flying immensely, and doing it alone…no fun at all.

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The only way to get by was with lots of knitting and reading. (Socks! Drachenschwingen by Julia Rotfeder, in Denali by Pagewood Farms, in case anyone wants to know.)

As soon as I touched down at LAX, my first adventure with an Uber driver began. We already know how one of those worked out on this trip, but trust me, this one had much less vomit involved. My first Uber driver was a fashion designer who picked up extra money on the side driving people from the airport on her way home from her studio. Or at least that’s what she told me. Either way, pretty cool.

She brought me to the adorable Tangerine Hotel in Burbank where my brother and sister-in-law were waiting for me, and we wasted no time getting started doing some touristy things.

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Like going to Grauman’s Chinese Theatre, and going shopping around the Walk of Fame. Humphrey Bogart seems like my kind of guy.

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I made my own chocolate bar at an otherwise disappointing candy store that I will not name here (and let’s all pretend that the name of the store isn’t on that order form or that I wasn’t so lazy that I didn’t edit the picture to remove it). Seriously, if you call yourself the world’s largest candy store, you shouldn’t have more stock in souvenir t-shirts than things that are edible.

But the chocolate bar was downright tasty. I may have missed my calling.

Then we met Lady Gaga.

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Kidding. We went to Madame Tussaud’s and had an awesome time. I will spare you the 50 or so close-up pictures that I have of celebrity faces that are entertaining only to me. I did send Dan a picture of me with Brad Pitt declaring that I was stealing his boyfriend, but he was only fooled for a second.

Who am I kidding anyway? Brad Pitt would run away with Dan in a heartbeat. I also jumped on a bicycle and channeled my best Elliott pedaling away with E.T. These are the things you do when you are a sleep-deprived person forced to get on a plane.

The next day, the Reading Rainbow Live! event happened. Go ahead and read all about it if you missed it.

Am I done talking about things that aren’t the Emmys yet?

Yes!

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Now, originally, when my brother had told me about this trip, he merely said that we’d be attending a “special event” on Sunday, and that I needed to buy a nice dress. Later, I found out exactly what the event was, which is a good thing, because I tend to go out of my way to not get dressed up for any reason. Which would have been bad.

As soon as I knew that I needed an awesome dress (and that I didn’t really want to look like I was going to the prom), I knew exactly where to go. Trashy Diva is a fantastic shop here in New Orleans that sells handmade vintage-inspired dresses with a huge range of styles, fabrics, and sizes, and there had been one calling to me for a few weeks that I just needed an excuse to splurge on.

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The Honey Child dress in the Geisha Fans print. Excuse the picture in my front hallway, but it was love at first sight. Who doesn’t want to walk into a black tie event with the most beautiful people in the world wearing a dress covered in origami swans? And I’m not one for meme-speak, but those shoes tho.

The ladies at Trashy Diva were super awesome about helping me pick the right size (which can be difficult for those of us who are just slightly larger than the sizes that stores think women are), the right shoes (with the least amount of risk of breaking my face open), and the right shapewear underneath (my first experience with the wonder that is Spanx). I started out super uncomfortable at the prospect of walking into the event at all, but with their help, I was nothing but excited (although I’m pretty sure that no matter what dress you buy, there’s pretty much no way you can eat while you’re wearing it, right?).

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My brother purchased these tickets for some sort of insane amount of money, but that doesn’t mean that you get to hang out with famous people. Nope, you get your very own red carpet, made from Astroturf, carefully separated from the real red carpet.

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And the weather was pushing 100 degrees that day, so we tried to move it along and stay out of the direct sunlight as best we could.

But, there were gaps in the fabric that separated the two sides from each other, and when I peeked through…

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Stephen Merchant! I tried to point him out to my brother and sister-in-law and the tiny crowd that had formed around us at our hidey-hole, but no one else knew who he was, which is tragic. I hope that they all investigated the Ricky Gervais Podcast, as I suggested.

At the end of our Astroturf carpet, the two red carpets sort of merged together. We were still separated by a line of plants and velvet ropes, but it was the perfect place to watch people walk majestically up and down the red carpet.

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Like Heidi Klum! She came over to the rope to fix her shoe and said hello to everyone.

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And Fred Savage! Who at first looked like he might come and smack the phone out of my hand.

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But then saw someone he knew and resumed looking adorable.

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Retta walked by, and I was in awe of her amazing pink dress. Is it covered in flower petals? Butterflies? I have no idea, but it was so lovely.

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And this dress! Oh my god, I have no idea who this gorgeous girl is (and if anyone knows, please let me know), but that dress is so cool I can’t even stand it. She walked with it held up in front of her and looked like she was gliding everywhere.

It’s moments like that that make you realize that you are probably sweating all the way through and wrinkling what you thought was your fabulous cocktail dress, ending up looking like a wet napkin next to these ridiculous goddess women.

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Speaking of goddesses…Laura Prepon, Jaimie Alexander, Laverne Cox…I felt like a lowly peasant woman. Laverne Cox came right up to us and waved at everyone and thanked them for coming. I was too busy being stunned to get a picture of her that was in focus.

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Tituss Burgess! He had everyone laughing in his interview up on the stairs.

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It was also super awesome when Jamie Lee Curtis came up to us to say hello. Not just wave and walk by, but she stopped and said that she hoped we weren’t melting in the heat (which we were) and that she hoped we were having a good time (which we also were). Her show Scream Queens is filming here in New Orleans, and I might have to keep an eye out for her now. Hers is definitely my favorite picture that I took on the red carpet.

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Taraji P. Henson just looked so incredibly happy and beautiful as she walked by and waved to everyone.

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And to cap it all off, I saw Gwendoline Christie…

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And Nikolaj Coster-Waldau right at the end, very nearly in the same frame. I don’t think my brain would have been able to handle it if I had gotten Brienne and Jaime in the same picture, so it’s good that they spared me. Gwendoline Christie looked like a Greek statue come to life. She is so beautiful that it pains me.

Now, time for some fun Emmy facts. They sell all kinds of snacks and beverages in the theatre, but they don’t let you go to your seat with any of it.

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So I basically slammed down a flute of champagne because I knew that I wasn’t going to be able to hack it in those shoes much longer.

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We were sitting right in the middle of the loge section, which is the second-highest area in the theatre, so even though you could see the people on stage, you couldn’t make out anything in terms of actual facial expressions. No fear, though, there are huge screens on the sides of the stage to help the audience actually see the show.

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This is what it looked like during a commercial break for the most part.

One of the coolest things about the set was where the band was sitting, which, from what I gathered from those who watched it on TV, was tragically not really revealed to them.

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The band was inside of the giant scenic column the entire time, hidden by the rings of video screens. How freaking cool is that? During every commercial break, the band would continue playing long after the lights came up, and then the video screens would display for the audience how long they had before the live broadcast started again. (Oh, and I can’t leave out that before the show started, they had whatever football game was playing on Fox up on those screens. One of the guys behind us said, “They have the game on? This is the best day!”)

Usually the band would stop playing rather abruptly when there was 1-2 minutes left so that they could pick up on the right section when the show started again. Then, the whole audience would hear the stage manager call the time left before the feed picked back up again. There were requests for applause at strategic moments, and we were told to respectfully stay quiet during the “In Memoriam” section.

Also, when you see the show live, you don’t get to see the moments where the winners walk to stage. I imagine this is because if the cameramen caught the video screens on the side in their frame, it would probably loop back and cause one of those infinite loop things that seemed very cool back when I was in my high school television class. You don’t get to hear the announcer lady with the interesting facts about each winner either. You just clap and clap and clap until you can’t clap anymore.

I’m trying to sit and process and pick out my favorite moments from the show for you, but the whole thing just seems like a blur now. I clapped and screamed my heart out for Jeffrey Tambor, Allison Janney, Uzo Aduba, Peter Dinklage, Jon Hamm, and Tracy Morgan — that at least I remember. I delighted in Andy Samberg, just like I normally do. I engaged in a battle of wits with a dude sitting on my left that thought that he needed both armrests at all times so that he could text more efficiently, I guess.

Most of all, I had fun.

Then we made it a point to get back to the hotel as soon as possible, change out of those crazy black tie outfits, and eat a whole bunch of pizza. It was great.

Butterfly in the sky, I can go twice as high! (Reading Rainbow Scarf Updates)

It was a little over a week ago when I got on a plane to Los Angeles, with a super special scarf in tow. More on the details of the trip later, let’s get to the Reading Rainbow goodness.

20150919_140422The Reading Rainbow Live! event was held at YouTube Space LA, a new venue for video-makers and collaborators, located conveniently in the middle of a whole bunch of construction that throws off everyone’s GPS in a bad way. Our poor Uber driver was so confused trying to get us into the space, and I didn’t help things along by getting super carsick along the way.

That’s right, ladies and gentlemen, on my way to meet LeVar Burton, a childhood hero, I got so sick that I threw up in a paper bag inside our Uber car. Luckily, we were at a corner where I could run outside and compose myself like a decent human being (as well as take a little walk to throw away my…bag of vomit…I am still horrified at myself), but the stop-and-go traffic and the multiple winding turns around all that construction made my stomach flip. When we finally got there, most of us no worse for wear, they had little tents set up with water and snacks, and I was overjoyed to have a little time to calm down.

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They also gave us tiny LeVars to tag with our latest adventures in reading on Instagram. Cute.

20150919_143044All of my pictures from this are from behind 3 rows of seats, plus it wasn’t super bright in there, so do forgive any blurriness. While we waited for the event to start, we were treated to clips from older shows, plus an awesome auto-tuned song put together from old clips.

I am not ashamed to say that I was tearing up a little. There were colorful mats spread out all over the floor in front of the audience seating full of children, and it occurred to me that this might be the first time they were ever getting to experience Reading Rainbow and being in a room full of adults who love reading, and it made me a little emotional.

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Mark Wolfe, business partner and co-founder of RRKIDZ, started everything off by thanking the donors and telling them how successful the new Reading Rainbow app has been, as well as telling everyone about their new venture Skybrary, a huge collection of children’s books and video “field trips” (I never knew that’s what they called the live-actions parts. That’s adorable.) that are accessible from cloud storage to homes and classrooms all over the world. How cool. I wish there would have been something like that available when I was growing up, but then I doubt I would have ever come up for air if there were.

20150919_144648Then, Mr. Levardis Robert Martyn Burton, Jr. himself came out, to thunderous applause.

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He introduced two videos, the first being the old episode of Reading Rainbow where they visit the set of Star Trek: the Next Generation and get to see all of the behind-the-scenes action. The next one was the first “field trip” for the new series, all about the history of space travel and the MAVEN launch from the Kennedy Space Center.

Again, tears welled up. You guys, it was so good. And just like I remembered. Interesting facts, beautiful photography, all delivered with the skilled hands of master educators…people who know that the best way to get kids to learn is to not talk down to them or make things too simple. Just make it cool, and kids will follow.

After that, it was time for a story, which meant it was time for some celebrity storytellers.

20150919_145354Jonathan Frakes. If you didn’t have a crush on Riker, you’re just lying to yourself. Jennifer Hetrick (Vash, from TNG and Deep Space Nine) came out right after that, but I didn’t get a good picture of her.

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Armin Shimerman, the friendliest Ferengi you ever did see.

20150919_145512Jeri Ryan! So lovely.

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Michael Dorn, looking simultaneously exactly like and nothing at all like what I imagined under all of that Worf makeup.

20150919_145608Rosalind Chao, who I didn’t even know was involved with Star Trek at all, but I’ve seen the movie of The Joy Luck Club so many times that I don’t even care. Not pictured, Robert Picardo from Voyager because I was too short to ever see him over there on the side. Then, we got some video from someone who wished he could be there.

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Oh, Brent Spiner. Data was the best.

20150919_145840Oh wait.

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He came! Yay!

20150919_145951We were treated to a storytime featuring Miss Martin Is a Martian by Colleen Murray Fisher.

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20150919_150559They were all so fun and animated during the storytime, and the pages were projected onto the video screens so that everyone could see, not just the kids up front. It was such a wonderful idea. Then, we were treated to more videos from Star Trek cast members who wished they could attend.

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Like Marina Sirtis!

20150919_151111And Gates McFadden, who really might be one of the most adorable people on Earth. Did you know she was a choreographer for Jim Henson Productions? Yep, she choreographed the beautiful waltz from Labyrinth and the stylized movements from the warring tribes in The Dark Crystal. That is so freaking cool. Then, one last guest arrived before the next storytime.

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Kate Mulgrew! The applause was ridiculous.

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She helped the gang read Watch Out for Wolfgang by Paul Carrick, a very weird and fun Three Little Pigs-esque story with robots.

After storytime and more clapping (so much clapping), it was time for something they called Star Trek Trivia, but was basically a big game of Taboo with Star Trek terms. The casts split up into two teams to duke it out.

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There was a lot of wild gesturing and arm flailing. And cheating! Jonathan Frakes really just likes to yell out the answers when it isn’t his turn.

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It was a lot of fun to see how much they still remembered from their shows. Q&A came next, and Kate Mulgrew had two of the greatest answers to really wonderful questions from the audience.

20150919_152946When asked how to encourage children to read from an early age, she said to read in front of them and to them all the time. Kids pick up on these behaviors and imitate them, so the best way for your kids to start reading is to be a reader yourself. Much applause. Then, when asked to comment on her experiences being a role model for young girls who wanted to become scientists, she declared that it was the whole reason why she took the role in the first place. She wanted to inspire others to follow those dreams, and the people at the event who were affected by her performance were all the validation that she’d ever need for taking the job.

Damn, that woman is amazing.

And anyway, that’s it.

…..

Just kidding. We all want to know what happened with the scarf, right? At least, I hope we do.

After the event, they cleared us all out of the space in order to rearrange some things and get set up for pictures. Unfortunately, Brent Spine and Kate Mulgrew had to leave early, so they couldn’t stay for the pictures. Then, we got lined up again and they let groups in a few at a time. YouTube used its own official camera for the event, and each group got their photo taken and then was shuffled out of the space.

I panicked a little. I had the scarf wrapped up in my purse with my cute little handwritten note. I didn’t realize I was only going to have 20 seconds of time to explain myself before the line had to move again.

When we got up to the front, I walked up to LeVar Burton (yes, I just wrote that sentence, which is crazy) and opened up the wrapping for him, handing him the card and telling him that I made him a present. He was a little confused at first because I think he didn’t realize that I was talking to him. He looked back at me and said, “This is for me? Thank you so much! Why don’t we go ahead and take the picture?”

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He’s wearing it! And look at all of their adorable smiling faces, along with me, my brother, and my sister-in-law! Everyone is so good-looking!

As I started to walk away, his assistant stopped me and said, “Did you make this?” When I said yes, Jeri Ryan called out, “Wait, you made that? It’s beautiful!” My brain short-circuited and all I could do was smile and nod. I watched as LeVar put my card in his pocket, and his assistant grabbed the scarf and folded it up. She said, “I’ll be sure that it goes in his office. I can’t believe you made this!” Again, more smiling and nodding. I thanked her profusely, and then it was over. We were shuffled out into the daylight, me with a big giant grin on my face.

Now, that seems like a lot to handle for one day(hell, for the whole trip), but stay tuned for another post on my LA trip that involves a whole ridiculous amount of celebrities, an astroturf carpet, and holding it together in a new dress and high heels, which I am not known to do.

Mr. Burton, I made you a scarf.

I wanted to start this post by talking about Reading Rainbow, but it’s honestly a difficult thing to put into words.

20150916_100300I have always been a reader for as long as I can remember. A voracious reader. According to my mom, I started reading by myself at age 3, thanks to the greatest Little Golden book ever, The Monster at the End of This Book. I made my mom read that book to me over and over again every night until I had memorized the entire thing, and then I started reading it to her instead.

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In either first or second grade, my class participated in some sort of Newbery-sponsored reading contest where you could record all of the books that you read during the school year, and the person who read the most in the class got a special medal. Much to my parents’ chagrin, I used my Scholastic book order to go off on a crazy self-inflicted reading binge, finishing over 40 books that year. The next highest number in my class was 10. This was probably the first time that I have approached a challenge in this way, competing all by myself for an award that no one else really gives a crap about, but it was certainly not the last.

20150916_130532Whenever my brother and I got home from school, PBS was always the first thing on our minds. We would watch 3-2-1 Contact, Square One, and Reading Rainbow every single chance we got and revel in this world where the kids who liked math and science and reading were the norm. Reading Rainbow in particular was my favorite. I would write my own book summaries in the back of my school notebooks, hoping one day to deliver them professionally in the “You don’t have to take my word for it” section. I loved the extended storytimes where the book pages were animated on the screen and made the story come alive. And I especially loved it when LeVar Burton was on some sort of adventure that tied in with all of the featured books, like going to Space Camp or digging up dinosaur bones.

Last year, my brother and his wife told me that they were donating to the Kickstarter campaign to revive Reading Rainbow as an interactive app, and I thought that was a fantastic idea. Then, later, they told me that because of their donation, they were invited to go to a Reading Rainbow event in Los Angeles sometime this summer. Then, they told me that part of the cast of Star Trek: the Next Generation was going to be involved. Then, they asked me if I would like to go with them.

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Attentive readers will know where my brain went next. I decided that not only did I need to go to this event, but that I also needed to knit LeVar Burton a Reading Rainbow scarf. Because, of course.

20150912_18212320150914_170017 I wanted to make something reminiscent of the original Reading Rainbow logo (which I never noticed only has 5 colors in it! Did anyone else ever notice this?), so I headed down to McNeedles, an LYS that is becoming one of my favorite places to be, and told them my master plan. Not only were they on board, they helped me pick out exactly the bright, primary rainbow of colors that I wanted. Knitters understand these things.

20150915_172113It’s got a big color-blocked section on one side, with all of the accompanying ends to weave in. And then a big duplicate-stitched golden double-R on the other, like the original logo. 20150915_173703 I didn’t bother writing anything down for it, because if you can make a Harry Potter scarf like this one, you can just wing it and make it whatever size you want.

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This one is made out of Brown Sheep Lamb’s Pride Worsted and Nature Spun Worsted, with 50 stitches cast on in a tube and lots o’ blue fringe to close up the ends.

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Also, I’ve taken special steps to make sure that we don’t have another Jeff the Squirrel debacle, just in case.

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Cap definitely approves of the labeling. And the color scheme, too, I think. Primary red and blue all the way.

20150916_131047Here it is modeled by the lovely Michele, friend and coworker and extreme lover of books. She approves as well.

Now, I have absolutely no idea if this Reading Rainbow event will include any sort of Q&A or meet-and-greet or quick hand-shaking, but I do know that I’ve got to be more aggressive in getting this to Mr. Burton himself. So, I’m calling on you guys out there in Internetland. If you’ve got the means to let somebody know about this so that he knows about it, please do. Help me out. Take to the Twitters and Tumblrs and Facebooks and let LeVar Burton know how much you love him and appreciate him and let him know that one of us has a labor of love to give him at this event on Saturday the 19th.

Also, it would be great to make sure that I do not come across as the creepiest person ever.

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I’ll do my part, but I really need your help in making sure that this thing doesn’t end up in a trash can in some event hall after the show. I normally don’t ask for stuff like, but this one’s super important to me, guys.

I am so excited for Saturday that I can’t even come up with a good way to end this post. Oh man. Reading Rainbow is so awesome. Go watch it on Netflix right this second. You’ll be glad you did.

It’s Almost Too Hot for Knitting – Woodland Gyllis and a Great Rack

Because it is so freaking hot outside, I went and did the only sensible thing.

20150719_140115I made another scarf that is impossible to wear until it cools down outside. This is because I am a very sensible person who is in no way obsessed with sock yarn.

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Yep. Not crazy at all.

20150524_120249The pattern is Gyllis by the always amazing, beautiful, alien creature that is Stephen West. This man is a powerhouse of knitting design. His patterns are all about structural details and blocks of color, making each piece seem more like a work of architecture than something you’d wrap around your neck.

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I made his Herbivore pattern many years ago, and it is still my very favorite scarf in the wintertime, so I knew that when I found this beautiful yarn, Prism Saki in Woodlands (purchased at the absolutely delightful McNeedles, a store that I only recently discovered but will definitely be making my go-to LYS), that it was begging to be knitted up into something special.

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Something special enough that I would stand out in the 98-degree weather after sneaking onto Loyola’s campus with a bunch of merino wool on my body. It’s that good. Super soft and lovely while still retaining enough stitch definition to pop out all of those yarnovers and twisted stitches. I need a skein of every single color right this minute.

20150719_140136The contrast color is Cascade Yarns Heritage Sock, another great merino and nylon blend. I still have some left over, as well as the Saki, so you might see an anklet that pairs the two together again. As I was knitting it, I kept going back and forth as to whether I liked the two colors together, but after seeing it in action in the sunlight, I’m more than sure that I made the right decision.

Now, I am not the only crazy person making crafts in the ridiculously hot weather.

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Dan made a wine rack out of pallets! Like, with his hands and stuff.

20150713_100529And by stuff, I mean tools. But, seriously, he saw a picture of something similar on Pinterest, and just decided to go out in the garage and make one, with no schematics or anything. Just made it up.

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It’s so perfect that I am simultaneously overjoyed and jealous. We all know already that Dan is the ultimate laid-back stealth crafter. He completely wings things all the time, and they come out exactly as planned.

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It’s infuriating.

Goddammit, that’s a good looking wine rack. Everytime I walk by it, I smile. And then I think we need to buy some more wine.

My Grandmother Made Things

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Grandma Winnie made quilts, mostly, and when I was a kid, it was very rare to see her sitting down without an unfinished quilt in her lap. She would hum a never-ending sort of rambling melody to herself, completely unaware that she was doing it, as she held onto the embroidery hoop and made countless tiny stitches by hand. She had a room in her house totally dedicated to her quilting and sewing, with shelves of meticulously organized fabrics, arranged by color and texture. She had a closet full of patterns, templates, and stencils, because she believed that if something was worth doing, it was worth doing it by hand. She made my mother’s wedding dress. And all of the bridesmaids’ dresses. And innumerable baby blankets, bonnets, booties, Christmas stockings, tree ornaments, flower pots, ceramic figurines, pies, cakes…you get the idea. If there was something happening in your life, no matter how small, she had something that she had made at the ready to commemorate the occasion.

She passed away last Tuesday, a few days shy of her 94th birthday, after a long battle with Alzheimer’s Disease.

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Her strength was in her determination to live a simple life that was filled with things she loved. She married my grandfather right before he left to go fight on a battleship in World War II. She gave birth to my mom, Diane, while he was still out to sea, and had to wait for him to come back from across the world to meet his first child.

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She was an effortless hostess, working hard behind the scenes and never even thinking to complain about the fact that she had yet to sit down while everyone else was already having their second helping of Christmas dinner. She collected porcelain dolls and romance novels. She grew mirlitons and figs in her backyard, and she loved to travel.

When I was a little girl, I was inundated with pink things. Pink stuffed animals, pink clothes, pink hair accessories, pink everywhere. By age 12, I was sick of it, even the beautiful Cheer Bear quilt that Grandma Winnie had made me for my 5th birthday. I wish that I could find a picture of this glorious quilt where it wasn’t completely obscured by stuffed animals, but trust me when I say it was super cool.

Here.

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Just imagine this adorable bear surrounded by diamonds in every conceivable shade of pink. Cute, right? I know.

Anyway, I railed against the tyranny of pink in a big way. Even though I was a spoiled ungrateful child who had absolutely no idea how long it took to make a full-sized quilt for a double bed, she listened. She sat me down at her house with a huge pile of quilting magazines, and we went through them together for hours, picking out just the right pattern with exactly the right fabrics for my new, grown-up, pink-hating self.

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She stitched down every single flower and kitten by hand with blanket stitches of love. And I returned the favor by laying on top of that quilt and doing my homework every single day until all of those stitches wore out, and the appliques were peeling off. And then she did it again, fixing every piece and mending the holes with embroidered hearts. She knew that these things that she spent the time and effort to make were meant to be loved and enjoyed. They were useful objects that had no place hanging on a wall or being folded up on a shelf somewhere. If it fell apart, she could fix it or make you a new one. That was what she loved best.

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She was diagnosed with Alzheimer’s Disease several years ago, and at first she was just forgetful. She would misplace things and forget about the fact that she had already made dinner that night. When my grandfather passed away, it wasn’t the sudden downward slide into dementia that people were expecting, more like a slow fading away of the parts of her personality that were uniquely hers. She didn’t make things anymore. She forgot that she even knew how to do so.

The moment that most broke my heart was when I once went to visit her in her assisted-living facility when I had just started nursing school. She sat down on her bed to look at the crossword puzzle books that I had handed her and started absent-mindedly patting the crocheted throw on the bed next to her. I complimented the blanket, saying that it was very pretty (a very cool, seventies sort of retro zig-zaggy thing in shades of red and gray), and she smiled and said, “Oh, thank you. I don’t even remember where I got it.”

I said, “You made it.”

Her eyes got wide as she looked at me, and looked back at her blanket. “I did?”

I nodded. She said, “Well, I don’t know how to do stuff like that.” And then she traced the outlines of the ridges with her fingers. “I used to, I guess.”

I wanted to cry and give her a hug, but I decided against it because she wasn’t really sure who I was. She could tell that she was supposed to know me, but had decided that I probably worked there, given the fact that I was wearing scrubs at the time. Instead, I went and cried in my car after I left.

She was the one who had taught me how to crochet. She taught me how to quilt, how to embroider, how to work a sewing machine even though it still terrifies me. How to be delighted in the small and the handmade. How to love bird-watching. How to do crosswords. Right now, my brain can’t even process what it would be like to forget how to do these things. These things that were such a large part of who she was. Of who I am now.

However, she never lost the core of herself to Alzheimer’s. She was, till the very end, unfailingly kind. She was always up for eating something delicious and watching everyone around her have a wonderful time.

317She still graciously accepted gifts. She loved chocolate. She made an effort to smile at you and ask you how you were doing, even if she wasn’t totally sure she knew who you were. She didn’t understand why everyone wanted to take pictures with her and why she was so popular, but she smiled all the same.

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423She danced at my brother’s wedding reception, with all of the people who loved her most surrounding her and holding her up.

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On that night, when I walked over to her sitting near the edge of the dance floor, I held my hands up at her in a boxing stance, like one of those boxing nun puppets, wheeling my hands around as I came towards her. She returned the gesture and punched me in the arm, and said that she’d knock me out. I used to do this to her in her kitchen all the time when I was in high school and had started to grow taller than her. My cousins and my brother and I all did, for some reason. She punched my arm on the dance floor, and I almost cried. And then we danced.

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I can’t even deign to compare myself to this amazing woman, this woman who was full of nothing but patience and kindness and good advice. This woman that knew that most problems could be solved if you just talked them over with a glass of milk and some vanilla sandwich cookies. I couldn’t say that she was even the grandparent that I am most like, but she’s definitely the one that I most wanted to be. That I still want to be. I make things, too, and I put a part of myself into every stitch or recipe, just like anyone would, I suppose.

But when she made things, she made people happy. She made a beautiful life. May we all be so lucky.

Little Lebowskis – Dark Chocolate White Russian Cupcakes

I appear to have acquired for myself a reputation for making boozy desserts. I have absolutely no idea how that could have possibly happened.

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My friend Samantha recently moved away from New Orleans to Chicago, and for her going-away party, I asked her if she’d like for me to bake anything. She said that she didn’t care what the baked good was, as long as it was filled with alcohol, preferably White Russian-flavored.

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I was prepared with a ridiculous amount of Kahlua, but, as usual, some research was in order. I was going to be bringing this dessert to a bar (appropriately enough, considering the contents), so it couldn’t be some sort of giant cake or frozen thing. Cupcakes seemed portable and appropriate. Clicking around brought me to the Collegiate Baker‘s Chocolate Kahlua Cake, a thing of beauty that absolutely begged to be modified into cupcakes.

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All of the elements were there: chocolate, Kahlua, and even more Kahlua.

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As for the cupcakes part, the only modification that I made was to divide the batter into liners in a cupcake pan (obviously), and baked them for a slightly longer period of time (about 33 minutes, as opposed to the 25 in the original recipe). I’m not sure if the longer time comes from a slightly taller cake or from the fact that my oven is a lying liar all the time, but things worked out nicely.

Just a note, you end up filling the cupcake liners slightly higher than you think you need to because these don’t rise very much at all. Just go a little bit higher than the standard 2/3rds, and you’ll be just fine. You’ll get 18 cupcakes, plus a tiny 1/2-sized 19th cupcake just for you to enjoy.

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This tiny half-cake ended up being super important to the process here. Dan and I split it when the cupcakes had cooled sufficiently, and we discovered that, although the chocolate and coffee liqueur flavor was pleasing (that’s too weak of a word…it was freaking dense and delicious), it was not what you’d call boozy really. It didn’t have that little bump of tang and flavor that I’ve come to associate with those types of desserts.

So, after the cakes were totally cooled, I went ahead and remedied that by poking a bunch of holes in the top of each cupcake…

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…and brushing them with straight Kahlua to soak in. Each one got a good, full brushful, plus some extra drops drizzled into those gorgeous cracks on top. I think I used slightly less than 1/2 cup for all 18 cakes.

Then, I let that soak in while I made the frosting.

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Southern Living’s White Russian Frosting, because you don’t mess with perfection.

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It’s ridiculous how good this stuff is. And a warning, you’ll end up with way too much for just cupcakes, unless you are some kind of champion cupcake decorator who knows how to pile that stuff up way high. I think that I probably only used about half of the recipe, and the other half is currently sitting in my refrigerator, calling to me softly every time I walk by.

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Now, I am intimidated by frosting cupcakes. But if you are a close reader, you are probably not surprised by this information. This time, however, I had the frosting mojo. I was on a roll, making perfect little spirals with perfect tiny curls on top.

Until.

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My frosting bag betrayed me. Split right up the side. And then at the tip while I attempted to salvage the existing frosting and rescue the tip. While I scrambled to rig up a Ziplock bag to save the entire operation and not lose the frosting mojo, Dan took some artistic shots.

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Dang. I’m still proud somehow.

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Back on track.

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I was even smiling, and you know that rarely happens in my kitchen.

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Then, for the finishing touch, everything got sprinkled with some bittersweet chocolate shavings. You could make some chocolate curls for yourself, or you could go with my cheating, hacky version and buy some super fancy hot chocolate from Williams-Sonoma and use that instead. It’s delicious sprinkled on top of ice cream, too.

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Hooray! I sent out the call on social media for friends to help me with the name for these, as I couldn’t think of anything that was remotely clever or didn’t sound exactly like every other cake on the Internet. There was so many funny and interesting suggestions, but what really stuck out was how many people mentioned The Big Lebowski and the Dude.

I kicked myself for not thinking of that first, and then used elements of a bunch of suggestions to come up with Little Lebowskis, after the urban achievers in the film. And proud we are of all of them. (Do it in your best Maude voice.)

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Sam became the keeper of the cupcakes once they appeared at the party, and her smile makes me think that I did a pretty good job.

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I know that the quality of these pictures is bad, but bars are dark and no one else in the world cares if you like to take pictures of your food.

Anyway, the first bite of these is super dark chocolate and sweet buttercream. Then, the Kahlua kicks in and warms everything up, and makes everyone make the same simultaneously surprised and satisfied face. I’m going to have to make them again to use up all that extra frosting.