Tuesday, November 27, 2012

DIY Tree Flocking - One Year Update!

When I made and applied my own DIY tree flocking last year, some people thought it was with the intention of throwing the whole tree away after Christmas. Not so! Instead, John shrink wrapped the whole tree - lights and all -  into a handy fat pole, which we then stored in the back of the garage.

We live in Florida, so obviously this tree has been baked in sweltering, humid heat for an entire year now. My only real concern was that my "flocking" might crack or crumble over time.

Well, last week John brought our shrink-wrapped tree inside, plunked it down, cut off the wrap, and...

[drum roll, please]

...it looks perfect!

Since we wrapped the tree with all my lights and pine cones wired in place, all it took was a few minutes' sprucing (zing!) to fluff the branches up a bit, and this was the end result.

Now the real test: how did the flocking fare?

Not a single crack or crumble. WOOHOO!!

In fact, I'm pretty sure my fake snow looks way more real and fresh than the tree itself:

So for those of you who were on the fence about my flocking tutorial, I hope this helps assure you that it really does stand the test of heat and time.

Also, I am never NOT shrink wrapping this tree again. Putting the lights on is the most tedious and time-consuming part of the whole process, so it was sheer heaven to have the tree ready for ornaments in under five minutes. We had to assemble our second tree as usual, and boy was THAT a pain after this one! See how quickly I get spoiled? :) (Note: It IS a pre-lit tree, but I add four extra strands of twinkle lights on top of that. I like a LOT of lights.)

Here's one final full shot:

We hung our hot air balloon ornaments first, of course. (YAY BALLOONS!) I still have to decorate the rest of the tree, but I'm taking my time. I like to stretch out the full house-decking over a few weeks, for maximum holiday enjoyment. ;)

I hope you guys are having a great week!

* See my original tree flocking tutorial here.

Monday, November 26, 2012

Toy Catalog Goes "Gender Neutral" - Looks "Normal" To Me!

Everyone's talking today about the new holiday catalog from Top Toy, Sweden's largest toy store chain. After drawing criticism with its last catalog depicting boys and girls in stereotypical roles - ie princesses & superheroes - Top Toy did its best to make amends with this new edition.

Buzz words make me wary, so I didn't know what to expect when I saw all the headlines blaring "gender neutral" and even "gender-swapped" in reference to a toy catalog.  I was starting to fear some bizarre land of beige jumpsuits and bob haircuts ala the J'naii from Star Trek.

(I know you all obviously remember the J'naii, but just in case...)

But then I saw the catalog for myself, and you know what? It doesn't need buzz words. It's just semantics, of course, but I'd have described it as more "all-inclusive" than anything. And gender-swapped isn't quite accurate, since all of the toys show both boys and girls playing with them, and often together.

I don't usually like to post something that most other geek and news blogs have already covered, but since many of those sites are only including the one photo of a girl holding a Nerf gun, I thought it might be valuable to show you guys the more complete picture:

 See? Girls *and* boys. As it should be!

Needless to say, I love this catalog. I just wish it had come about as a result of society's changing expectations, and not because a watch dog agency forced the toy company into it. 

As with everything relating to gender and stereotypical interests, I think we should focus more on the positive - celebrating diversity and positive role models - than the negative. If we all live our lives in such a way that a girl playing Star Wars or a boy playing House is no big deal, then eventually it won't be a big deal. 

So if we all celebrate this toy catalog, and congratulate Top Toys, and tell them how much these photos represent real kids out there who often feel bad for liking "girl" or "boy" things, then maybe other companies will follow suit.

And maybe - just maybe - in another few years all toy manufacturers will catch on to what we geeks already know: that toys are toys, no matter your gender or age, and there are no rules when playing dragons and castles:


Go see the rest of the Top Toys catalog for yourself here, found via The MarySue commenter The I.

Sunday, November 25, 2012

Christmas Tree Heaven

Every year John and I attend The Festival of Trees here in Orlando, an event put on by the local art museum. I think there are nearly a hundred different decorated Christmas trees and wreaths on display, so it's complete Christmas overload - and I love it. Each tree is decorated by a different designer, so it's the perfect place to find new ideas and inspiration for your own tree and home, not to mention see every color combination and theme imaginable.

I took nearly four hundred photos in the few hours we were there this year, which I've whittled down to about 90. Obviously those won't all fit in this post, though, so I'll just post the ones I most want to talk about it here. For the rest, head over to my Flickr account.

Now, on to the goodies!

Since Christmas trees always look like a jumbled mass of sparkles from a distance, I tried to take both a full shot & a close-up of all my favorites. (Click any pic to embiggen.) This one had a great earthy theme, with mushrooms, branches, leaves, and iridescent bubble ornaments.

I was surprised to find that some of the prettiest trees in person - like this one - looked far less impressive on camera, and vice versa. The spotlight lighting made it hard to capture, but that topper was a gorgeous fan of peacock fathers and glittery berry-like sprigs.

The tree topper has always been the hardest part for me to get right, so that's the first thing I look at when I see a Christmas tree. I love how creative these designers get, using everything from stuffed animals to floral findings to... telescopes?

Yep, they glittered up a telescope for this retro robot/space themed tree. Isn't it fun? This one had  some of my favorite individual ornaments, too, so I took a bunch of close-ups:

I'm seriously considering using that last pic for our Christmas cards this year. Retro kitschy goodness!

Most of the Festival trees were 10 feet or taller, but there were also plenty of sweet mini trees like these mixed in. It's hard to see at first, but there's an adorable fawn figure on the right one. I love how that tree is wrapped in grapevine and twigs, too, so the lights really glow from the inside.

This tree would be perfect for my bedroom - if it could fit, of course:

There were full-sized Moroccan lamps used as ornaments, and jewel-toned silk scarves for garland. You can't see it in the close-up, but they also had brass "genie lamps" tucked inside the branches.

This next one had a lot of people oohing and aahing over it, but I think it's crazy creepy. See what you think:
That's a life-sized mannequin on top, except she had no legs. John and I giggled in horror at the thought of getting up in the middle of the night only to see THAT staring out at you. o.0 (Why not just spray her with granite texture and go full-on Who Angel? [shudder])

But if that's not unsettling enough for you, then the two "angels" that were beside the tree might do the trick:

They have no arms. Just sayin'.

Still, that tree did give me another pretty ornament shot:

 I like the soft pink glow and silvers. Hmm. Maybe *this* should be our Christmas card...

Alice in Wonderland is always a popular theme at the Festival, so I saw at least three or four Alice examples. This one had a whole themed display around it, in addition to the tree itself:

Great colors - and I love the vintage vibe of the White Rabbit.

This was beside the tree:

Lookit the little hedgehog!! And the "drink me" display is just gorgeous. (I think pale blue and red is my second favorite color combo - after teal and orange, of course.)

The red paint and brushes are a great touch. The photo on the right is of another Wonderland tree at the show, and I am LOVING that card topper. I believe it was made with flexible wire and Styrofoam balls painted with glitter, so not too daunting to DIY. Then add some vintage teacups, and you're golden!

Next to the blue Alice tree was this Beauty and the Beast one:

I think this one got way too drippy - you can barely tell there's a tree under there! - but I do love the way the garlands form a kind of lattice work on top, and the red roses with the gold.

Here's another one I'm not sure I like, but it's definitely...interesting:

I think I just like symmetry too much, so that giant gift box on top is throwing me. The unicorn is nifty, though.

Oh, and the biggest new trend I saw this year? That wide mesh ribbon stuff. It was EVERYWHERE. (Look back through my photos, and you'll see most of the trees used it.) It makes a great puffy garland, and seems to hold its shape really well. Some designers even used just that to make their wreaths - no greenery at all.

I found some giant rolls of both gold and silver mesh at Cracker Barrel (yes, Cracker Barrel) last week for only $10, so I'm going to give it a try this year. (It's as wide as a roll of wrapping paper, to give you an idea of just how big this stuff is.) I've always used wired ribbon for garland, but that's such a pain to get it to lay right. Here's hoping the mesh is easier!

Ok, back to the trees:

I don't think my pictures do this next mini-tree justice, because it was just stunning in person:

The grapes were lights, and the whole thing was wrapped in grapevine, with rich teal and wine-colored ornaments. So, so pretty.

Next to it was what I dubbed The Alcoholic's Tree:

A few wine corks = rustic charm & character. 
A whole tree-full = time for an intervention.

The Festival also had a few room vignettes set up, and I fell head over heels for this one:

I'm such a sucker for black and white checks and stripes - and it looks fantastic with all the red and green!

Another random close-up, and an especially pretty tree topper:

Those roses look like a still-life painting. I never would have thought to use flowers like that for a tree topper, but I like it!

Which reminds me: butterflies were another popular theme at the Festival. Two more of my favs:

The blue butterfly ornament has a large hole in the glass on the backside, in case you're wondering (as we did) how the pine cone got in there. The right photo might be another card candidate. (Decisions, decisions...)

I know most people aren't as crazy for Christmas decorations as I am, but I hope you guys still enjoyed my photos!

Next I'm going to post some of my favorite wreaths from the show, since there were plenty of stunners with fantastic ideas to rip off lovingly copy. ;) Stay tuned for that, and in the mean time, head over to Flickr to see the rest of my tree photos!

Friday, November 23, 2012

Epic Portal Party!

Brooke I. may not be able to play Portal herself (it makes her too dizzy), but that didn't stop her from throwing a triumphant Portal birthday party for her science-loving sons:

There were fun inflatable turrets, Aperture t-shirts, and goodie bags filled with orange & blue candy, mini Turrets, and Aperture iron-on patches for everyone.

The table was set with a mini Portal gun and canisters of the orange and blue "propulsion" & "repulsion" gels from Portal 2:

(The gels are edible, btw, and stored in clear-topped dollar tins from Micheals.  Brooke shares how she made them on her blog.)

[Correction: Oops, sorry, guys; these gels are NOT edible - but Brooke does have edible versions on her blog!]

Plus there were portals everywhere: painted on tunnel entrances, boxes, and even glowing mirror versions made with rope lighting!

For a party game they played pin-the-name-tag-on-the-Cave-Johnson-portrait:


And the pièce de résistance?


 ...that's a lie!

Yep, that "cake" is actually meatloaf. (I'm making a note here, Brooke: HUGE SUCCESS.)

Head over to Brooke's blog to see tons more pictures, and for the recipe for those gels and the meatloaf "frosting." And thanks for sharing, Brooke!