Cute and/or Pretty

Have you ever gotten sucked into a world that a few hours earlier you didn’t even know existed? That was me, today. Somehow I ran across a picture of an adorable dirndl dress on Pinterest. I knew that ladies in Austria and southern Germany still wear them occasionally but I had no idea that they are still a big deal. Being the good little Austrian girl that I am, I actually have a dirndl. Ok, two. (Three if you count my grandmother’s dirndl that is around here somewhere but I couldn’t fit in it to save my life.) I never wear them. It seems a little silly here in Texas. But that’s going to change because I’ve seen the world of gorgeous dirndls and it is the world I want to live in. Of course, these dresses cost a pretty penny. I think the cheapest one of the dresses below is €500. Looks like I’ll be sewing one for myself.

Look at how lovely and charming they are! It’s like a cross between Snow White and a milkmaid. Which is a very good thing. Austrian and Bavarian women really wear these! Not every day, but for special occasions. Last time I was in Austria lots of ladies wore them to church. Every dirndl has a gathered skirt; a vest-like bodice with (usually but not always) a little blouse underneath; and, of course, an apron.

blue and pink dirndl

 

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There are even dirndl fashion shows (Folk costumes are called Trachten. This includes lederhosen and menswear too.) I guess it’s to show the latest in old-fashioned clothing. Pretty funny, really.

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But this! This takes the cake; this exactly the life I want to be mine:

 

If you’re dying to know more about dirndls in general, here’s an interesting little news piece I found (in English!)

I don’t suppose I need to tell you about all the drama that conspired when I was trying to fix up India’s Homecoming dress. When you are Mormon you can almost never find a formal dress that is modest enough. Since all high school girls are out to look as trampy as possible, that’s what designers cater to. India went out shopping at the mall and had zero luck. She finally stopped by Ross and found a dress that was semi-modest and only cost $17. But it was about 5 inches too short and had no sleeves. While I personally don’t have a problem with sleeveless dresses, their are a lot of Mormons who do. The technical rule is that “shoulders must be covered”. Some people read into that and decide that a girl must be able to wear a hanes t-shirt underneath for it to be qualified as modest. But I have a more liberal view. Ultimately I left the choice up to India who decided that the dress needed some small sleeves; she wants to be a good example for all the younger Mormon girls. Which meant more work for me. And then there’s the whole skirt-length issue (who are these parents who let their daughters out of the house looking so slutty?) But I’m just sewing my way to a mansion in Heaven, right?

After finishing the version 1 of “India’s Modest Homecoming Dress” I realized that it looked terrible. The fabric I chose to add on–a lovely organza–was simply too stiff and made the skirt look preposterous. So at 2 pm (she had to be at the football stadium, fully dressed at 6:30) I went back to the fabric store and started at square one. I guess the Lord was throwing me a bone because I found some matching lace that looked pretty darn good. I managed to modestize the dress, do India’s hair and makeup and have her out the door on time. Phew! If I had actually been using my brain I would have bought a second dress at Ross and cannibalized it so the fabric would have matched perfectly. But like most days I forgot to turn my brain on.

In the evening we took all the kids, plus my sister in law who was in town (and her sister, and her niece) and went to the high school football game. During halftime Mister walked India out onto the field, along with the other Homecoming Royalty. The King and Queen are chosen from among the Princes and Princesses and crowned at the game. They gave us no idea ahead of time who would win. Some of the kids (the football players and cheerleaders) got really huge cheers from the crowd when they walked out which made me kind of sad inside because how can normal people like India compete against that? I mean, I would take India over a cheerleader any day. No offense to you cheerleaders and football players out there, but I would be pretty disappointed if one of my kids chose that path. Here in Texas it’s considered The Best Thing In The World. It really is like becoming royalty. And although we know a couple of great cheerleaders and football players, for the most part they are bratty jerks. It’s the culture that reinforces that behavior. It’s especially sad since you know a lot of those people peak in high school.

Anyway, Mister and India walked out with the other royalty. Eventually the king was announced and it was India’s boyfriend! Which meant that most likely that India would be the queen. But not necessarily. I mean, it would be super awkward to have another girl be the queen but it certainly is a possibility.  But then the announcer boomed over the loudspeaker, “and now the moment you’ve all been waiting for: the 2013 Homecoming Queen is  . . . . . [he waited about 30 seceonds]. . . . India!”

She won!!! I almost passed out! Never in my imagination would I have guessed that India would be a Homecoming Queen. Don’t get me wrong, as a child she is pretty much the ideal. She’s obedient and studious and never complains. She’s also funny, kind, pretty and incredibly smart. But those sorts of qualities rarely are acknowledged in high school.  And add to that the fact that she’s a choir girl (the choir president, to be exact) and her boyfriend is in the marching band; not exactly your typical Queen and King. But there aren’t two kids at school who are nicer and who deserve it more.

As we left the game she was a little hestiant to walk by “the cool kids”. When I asked her why, she replied, “they’ll probably say ‘Why did India win?’”. I stopped and looked and her. “India, you won because the most people voted for you. You have every right to be Homecoming Queen. And if anyone even suggest that you don’t deserve to win just look them in the eyes and say, “talk to the crown!”

India queen cropped

PS. Of course my iphone is a piece of crap that won’t focus anymore so I have only the most terrible shots from the actual Homecoming game. (And I forgot the charge the battery of my good camera.)  So I had to rely on some of the other parents who have it more together than I do. Story of my life.

Homecoming royalty 2013

P.P.S. The ultimate bummer is that the Homecoming King had a band competition in Houston the next day and she had to go to the dance all by herself.

I don’t have much to say today so I’m just going to leave you a picture of this pretty pink house. It’s near my friend Lisa’s ranch. Every time I drive by it I think how much I love Second Empire-style houses. And then I think I might like to have a pink house one day. It’s kind of Barbie-ish, though. So probably not. But it is awfully cute.

It’s been Prom time around here. We have a no-dating-til-age-16 rule which means this was the first year that York and India were both old enough to go. India went with her boyfriend, Ethan, to both the school Prom and MoPro (Mormon Prom) where there aren’t so many skanky dresses and hoochie dancing. York just went to MoPro. Boys have a really easy time as far as the Prom is concerned: we bought him a nice suit, got his haircut, picked up a corsage and voilà! He was all set. For girls it is another story entirely. First there is the dress. It’s bad enough finding a dress that is cute and affordable, but when you’re Mormon it’s supposed to be modest too, meaning no crazy cleavage and shoulders must be covered. Choices are very limited locally. (I wish there were some sort of modest Prom Dress Excahange!) One of India’s friends loaned her a really pretty navy dress that we managed to modest-ize and I think it turned out well. Now that the Prom’s over we have to unpick all the modest additions so we can return it. Good thing they were just basted on.

It’s also a good thing that I know how to do nails, hair and makeup. There were a lot of girls who didn’t even bother to put on lipstick! For the Prom! It’s a good teaching opportunity to explain the difference between daytime and nighttime makeup. Of course India’s face showed up the best in all the pictures. I don’t take my beauty responsibilities lightly! Because India went to two Proms, that meant I got to spend two Saturdays in a row getting her all ready. (Luckily I used Angel Pro nail polish–with some silver glitter on the tips–so her manicure looked just as nice the second weekend as the first.)

Mister waited for India’s date to show up.

India’s boyfriend is the nicest boy. Terribly sweet and gentlemanly. Even so I had a little chat and told him that I’d punch him in the face if he drank any alcohol. I like to make sure that we’re on the same page.  I was sort of kidding, but not really.

The Prom was pretty nice and a good time was had until things started to get crazy and everyone was grinding on the dance floor.

The next weekend was MoPro. Since York doesn’t have his driver’s license yet, India had to drive him to pick up his date, Taylor. It was like some sort of bad Brady Bunch episode. Taylor is a pretty low-key, casual girl and York likes hanging out with her so they had a fun time.

I especially love this picture because York never–and I mean never–smiles for pictures. But lookie here! What a nice smile! I knew he could do it. York is not really into looking good (I picked him up from track practice a few weeks ago and he was wearing a dark green t-shirt, orange silky basketball shorts and black knee-high dress socks. He wears this ugly stuff proudly!). Finn, who is 14, is super into his looks. He actually had to tie York’s bow tie for him, help York style his hair and loaned him a nice watch to wear. It was pretty funny to see.

All the people going to MoPro together came over to our neighborhood and took pictures before heading off to dinner. What a cute bunch of kids!

I’m wild about polka dots. I love them always, on everything. Polka dot nail art was the first thing I wanted to learn how to do when I started getting more into nail design a couple of years ago. I would read all these nail blogs and wonder how in the world the nail artists could make such perfect and uniform dots. It’s pretty impossible to do with a brush. And then I found the secret: dotting tools. These are plastic sticks, kind of like shortish pencils. On each end is a metal ball. There are different sized balls depending on how big you want your dots to be. They almost always come in a set of five with graduated sizes of tips

All you have to do is put a tiny bit of nail polish or acrylic paint on a palette or plate, then dip the dotting tool into the paint and tap it on your nail. It makes a perfectly round circle instantly. There is no swirling, no trying to match up both sides of the circle to make it look right. Just dip the tool in polish, then touch it to the nail. Really, that’s all there is to it. If it’s not the right size, just wipe it off and try again.

It really couldn’t be easier. It takes a smidge of practice to figure out what size dot you want and how to get consistent results, but honestly an eight-year-old could do this. It’s that simple.

All you have to do is make sure that you apply at least one layer of a topcoat when you’ve finished your dots.

A variation on the dot is an outline of a circle, which is what I’ve done on the pink nails in the photo collage above. It isn’t actually an outline of a circle at all, it just looks that way. I made a large dot, then added a smaller dot in the center of the main background nail polish. It only appears to be an outline; it’s actually a dot sandwich.

So the big question is where to buy your own set of dotting tools. I have some good news and some bad news: The good news is that there are a million sellers on ebay who offer sets of these for $2-3 (shipping included!). The bad news is that they’re mostly in China so it takes about two weeks to get them. That’s where I got mine and have been perfectly happy with them. Just search for “dotting tools” on ebay.

Dotting tools are really wonderful and can be used for all sorts of art projects where small polka dots are needed, not just on nails. I have an odd little hobby of painting teensy peg dolls and dotting tools are perfect for the details.

For such a cheap price, it’s a great idea to have a set of these in your drawer.

 

More than any other nail art question, I get asked how to paint roses on fingernails. Everyone assumes that since roses are so pretty, they must be incredibly difficult to make. Not so!  Making a straight line is about a million times harder! This tutorial will show you how to make a perfect rose garden on your fingernails using nail polish and acrylic paint.

 

There are only a couple of tools you’ll need: A fine, flat-tipped paint brush and a super-duper-fine pointy paint brush. I’ve bought a ton of paintbrushes over the years hoping to find one with an incredibly fine tip for doing detailed nail art. My favorite brushes so far have been from this set of 5 brushes by Martha Stewart that I got at Michaels. They’re for painting glass, of all things. Who cares what you use them for! They’re great (especially if you have a Michael’s Coupon). I really only use the two finest ones but the other three might come in handy for other things.

You’ll also need either nail polish or acrylic paint for the flowers (Yes, I’m telling you that you can use plain old acrylic paints that they sell at the craft store). For the base of the flower I usually use the same nail polish that I use for my other fingers so it will match perfectly. This yellow is gel polish (Angel Pro Gelly #20). For the darker-colored detail on my yellow roses I used Delta brand acrylic craft paint.

Step 1. Paint your nails. Make sure they’re nice and dry if you’re using traditional polish. If you’re using gel polish, cure them but don’t use the top coat.

Using a flat-tipped brush (this is the crappy brush from one of my kids’ watercolor paint sets), put a few blobby-looking circles on each nail. You don’t want these to be perfect circles; that looks weird.

Let the circles dry/cure completely.

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Step 2. Find a color about 3-4 shades lighter/darker than the flower base. On this nail I’ve used a medium pink so I could either use a pale pink or a really dark pink. I did a few flowers of each so you can see the different look of each one. Basically, though, if you have a pale flower base, you’ll use a darker color. If you have a dark flower (red, for example), you’ll use a pale color as the accent.

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To make the details in the rose you’ll use your super fine brush to make about two or three lines. One towards the top of the rose, one towards the bottom that kind of swirls into the middle. You don’t need to be really scientific about this. I promise that you will be kind of disappointed by your roses. It’s not until you do the leaves that they actually look like pretty flowers.

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Step 3. Rinse out your superfine brush and make some leaves. They need to look a little like teardrops.

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If you really want to go for broke you can add a darker shade of green to the top of every leaf.

 

Step 4. Apply a top coat. Acrylic paint flakes off very badly. Apply at least one layer of clear topcoat. Now get ready to enjoy all the compliments!

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OK, so it’s only one girl. And it’s not exactly the dress Maria von Trapp was enivisioning. But here is sweet little Ada amongst the bluebonnets. She turns eight on Sunday and this is the dress she’ll wear to the baptism (not during the actual baptism because it’s blue and she has to wear white during the baptism itself. It’s also silk and the water would ruin it).

Now that I think about it this is a really braggy picture. Look at my beautiful daughter in her beautiful dress! Look at this lovely scenery! Isn’t Texas the best? Aren’t you super impressed that there’s a horse in the picture?

The horse isn’t ours, neither are the bluebonnets (thanks for letting us come out to your Ranch, Lisa!) I did make the dress–true–but I made it for India’s baptism and so that makes it a hand-me-down more than an heirloom. (I got Ada to wear it by telling her it matched her eyes.)

There’s a lot of weirdness surrounding posts and pictures on blogs/facebook/instagram. It’s hard to tell where information turns into bragging which turns into obnoxiousness. This is what I’m discussing over at Segullah today. Come and give me your 2¢!

A couple of weeks ago one of my readers,Tiffny, pointed out that my blog has been really gross lately; weevils, lice, rats . . . Yep, I’m most definitely guilty.  It’s a strange thing when you blog; there is the group of bloggers who feel like they should present a really lovely, wonderful life because it inspires people (or maybe they’re simply insecure. Not sure how to tell the difference). Those blogs are terrifically popular and people just eat them up. I, however, tend do dislike those blogs because they make me feel inferior and terribly jealous. Even though I know those bloggers have bad things in their lives too. It just doesn’t seem like it. And I read them and start feeling the hate roil within me. I turn into a massive green-eyed monster. I’m not exaggerating.

And then there is the group of bloggers, like me, who say “don’t feel bad about the crap in your life! Look at the crap in my life and let’s feel bad together!”   I have always, since I was a child, felt the need to be myself. If some people don’t like it, it doesn’t bother me at all. So this blog is one part, “look at my crummy life”. It’s also one part, “some of my life might be crappy, but I also happen to know how to do a lot of stuff too.”

The hard part of blogging for me is finding out how to balance the nice things and the things I know how to do (without seeming like a big, braggy know-it-all) with all of the unpleasantries and funny stuff.

Obviously, I’ve been slipping in the pleasant things as Tiffny pointed out. One of the biggest reasons is that I still don’t have a computer with Photoshop and I’ll be darned if I’m going to put unretouched pictures up on my blog! But I’ll just have to figure something out. I’ve got about a dozen tutorials that have been sitting around waiting to be edited. I want to be honest, but I don’t want my stuff to look crappy! I do have a teensy bit of self-respect.

To make up for all the ugliness I’ll put up a bunch of pictures from Instagram. I forget that not everybody looks at that. Here are lots of nice and pleasant pictures to see you through until I do some nice posts again (which will not happen until Christmas because I am swamped like you wouldn’t believe.)

Here’s some stuff I made:

Arabella’s Halloween Costume (some sort of Marie-Antoinette type thing)

About a million rolls for Thanksgiving. I couldn’t get them all in one picture. They got eaten in the first round of Thanksgiving, even though there were only 14 people at dinner.

And several pies: two Apple, one Lemon Truffle, and a Tin Roof. The crust this year was a new recipe that I made with half butter and half leaf lard (not the gross grocery store kind of lard) and it was so fantastic it almost made my brain explode.  Here’s my ode to Texas:

I also crocheted a monkey for my friend’s baby. I’m not so great at crocheting. The ear was particularly difficult. My brilliantly crafty friend, Cheryl, helped me crochet one ear and then I did the other all by myself. Guess which one I made!

Oh whoops! I wasn’t supposed to show you anything goofy! Here’e the monkey all finished (I only had to make eight ears before I figured it out!) I tried to make it to match the nursery which was “Dr. Seuss colors”.

The knitting is going lots better. I’ve been working on a scarf for the last couple months. It’s supposed to be the sort of thing that takes two nights to do, but when it’s been 80º for months there’s not quite the motivation to get a scarf finished. But it has been lovely sitting on the front porch knitting in the warm afternoon sun.

You see, there have been some lovely and productive things happening in my life. It just seems like I live in a vile house of pestilence and filth. Now if you’ll excuse me I have a toilet to unclog and eight more batches of gingerbread to bake.

 

PomsCeilingTitle, Tissue Paper Pom Pom Flower Tutorial
Tissue paper poms are my absolute favorite party decoration. They are cheap and big and make a lot of impact. Unlike helium balloons, these can be made weeks ahead of time. I thought everyone knew how to make tissue paper poms but I’ve had person after person ask me how to make them so I figured a tutorial is in order. The poms I’m making are with paper that is 20″ wide. Once the edges have been trimmed and they’re fluffed up, they’re about 16 inches wide. These are frightfully easy. Like, elementary school easy.

The first and most important thing you need is tissue paper. I buy mine in bulk from Nashville Wraps. They have every color imaginable and it’s really fantastic quality at a good price. But most people don’t want to go to that much trouble. You can use any tissue paper you like but keep in mind that most tissue paper is pretty chintzy, flimsy and small. You’ll need more sheets of the cheap stuff to achieve the same look.  Just how much? The tissue from Nashville Wraps is 20×30″. Since those are pretty big, thick sheets you’ll need less. I can get away with 9-10 sheets per pom. The average tissue paper you can buy at the store (say a 99¢ pack of eight sheets from Party City) is smaller (20×24″) and thinner. So you’ll need about 12 sheets to get the same effect.  You don’t have to use that much, but if you don’t your poms will look a little anemic and lackluster. If it’s a party full of screaming 4-year olds then maybe you don’t care so much. But if it’s for a wedding or a party where there will be actual people who will notice, you might want to splurge. It averages out to about 1.5 packs per pom. Honestly it’s not going to break the bank.

You’ll also need floral wire (I use 26 gauge but pretty much any thin wire will do), clear fishing line and clear push pins.

Tissue paper pom materials

 

Your first step will be to lay the tissue paper out with the corners nice and even. You’ll fold your paper up like a fan. (I think I made a fan out of the church program every single week until I was about twelve. So I’m pretty much an expert.) First fold the paper one way, then flip the whole stack over and fold the other way. I’m sure everyone knows how to do this. If you don’t, well, maybe throwing a party is not your biggest concern.  The important thing is to make the folds about 1.5-2 inches wide. Not any wider than this. Trust me, OK?

Tissue Paper pom folding

 

If you get to the end and there’s not quite enough to make another complete fold, just bend it underneath anyway. It will look fine. When you’re done, you’ll have an accordion-ish thing like this.

Tissue Paper accordion

 

Once it’s folded you’ll trim both sides. I prefer cutting mine to a point but you can also cut the edges so that they’re rounded. Rounded edges look a little more flowery and feminine. Points are a bit more dramatic. The tissue will probably be too thick to cut all at once so just cut a few sheets at a time. There is no need to be all perfect and OCD about this. Once the poms are fluffed up and hanging from the ceiling nobody will notice any details.

Tissue Paper pointy

 

Now grab a floral wire. You don’t need the wires to be super long, so I usually cut mine in half so they’re 9-10″. Bend the piece of wire in half.

Tissue pom wire

 

Slide the wire onto your folded tissue paper right in the center.

Tissue Pom folded

 

Now twist the edges of the wire together. You don’t want to make the wire too snug around the paper. It should be a bit loose; the puffball will be easier to fluff that way.

Tissue pom twisted wire

 

Now you’ll bend the wire over to make a loop. Take the loose ends and wrap them around the bottom to secure the loop. You’ll be hanging the pom from this.

Tissue pom loop

 

The easiest time to attach the fishing line for hanging is while the pom is still folded up. So take a piece of fishing line that’s about 10′ long and put it through the wire loop. Unless your ceilings are outrageously high, this will be plenty long. Better to cut the line too long than not long enough.

Tissue fishing line

 

Once the fishing line is through the loop, hold both ends together and tie them in a knot. This will keep the line from squiggling out at some point. Finding the wire loop again is a total pain once your pom is fluffed up, so make sure it’s a nice tight knot.

Tissue Pom knot

 

Now it’s fluffing time! Just a reminder that tissue paper is incredibly easy to rip. No duh, right? But I guarantee that at some point you will tear the paper. Just take it slow and easy. Start by gently lifting the top sheet of paper away from the others.

Tissue pom fluffing

 

The first piece or two should go straight up. The easiest way to do this without ripping the paper is to put your pointy and middle fingers on each side of a fold. Slide them from the outside of the pom towards the middle.

Tissue pom finger slide

 

Do this with about four layers of paper on both sides of the loop.

Fluffing tissue paper pom

 

Then flip the pom over and repeat until the whole thing is a big fluffy ball. Puff it up until it looks full and gorgeous.

Tissue Paper Pom Flower Tutorial

When you’re ready to hang your poms, it’s as simple as dragging a ladder around and sticking pushpins in the ceiling. It’s ever so helpful to have someone on the ground telling you if the poms are hanging at the right height. There actually is no “right height”. If they’re too low, you’re merely inviting all small children to try to jump up and hit them. I think about about 7 feet off the ground is nice so that tall fellows don’t get bopped in the head.

Tie the fishing line from each pom onto the pushpins and you’re all set. I bet you’ll be so thrilled you’ll consider leaving the poms up long after the party has ended.

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Last weekend was India’s first prom. Strangely this has never been a moment I’ve thought much about as I’ve raised my daughters. Probably because I never had a boyfriend (or a date for that matter) in high school so the Prom was always a source of anxiety and frustration rather than excitement.

But India is a 16 year-old sophomore so she could potentially go to three proms during her high school career. Guess who is not excited about that? (hint: me.) Not that I don’t want her to go to the prom. Just that it’s expensive coming up with a dress and shoes and all that. Not to mention the three hours it took to do her hair, nails and makeup.

Mormons in the metropolitan Austin area have their own prom. The regular high school proms feature skanky half-naked girls, lusty teenagers gyrating all over each other and lots of alcohol. There are many parents who are of the “if you let them drink at home at least they’ll do it more responsibly” school of thought*. So while there isn’t much alcohol at the prom itself (just a few hidden flasks and “water bottles”), before and afterwards are quite a different story. Yet again, our teenagers get to feel like oddballs when tell their friends that they are going to the prom and yet not going to the prom.

Trying to find a modest prom dress is a fool’s errand. Most high school girls these days are aiming for a look somewhere between stripper and prostitute. If you live in Utah finding something at least knee-length and covering the shoulders can be a little easier, but we Mormons in the wilds of Texas have to buy something on the internet or get out the old sewing machine.

After a fruitless trip to the prom dress store (would you like something strapless, strapless or maybe strapless?), we sat down with my mom to create something similar, minus the hoochie factor.

My mom put her mad sewing skillz to use and came up with something similar to the dress India liked most at the Prom dress shop. She loved it and she and her date looked so adorable. He’s a really sweet boy.

I had to give India a quick tutorial on looking gorgeous:

1. Shoulders back, boobs out, hips to the side, front knee bent, toe pointed forward.

2. Your smile is your best asset. (She and I both have a similar curse: ugly serious faces. We should be smiling always. That is a hard pill to swallow for an introverted, shy teenage girl.)

I think she worked it pretty well for an amateur!

*If you think that letting your kids drink alcohol in your own house is somehow a better alternative, you are wrong. So, so, so wrong. And you are also a coward about telling your kids that their behavior is not acceptable. It is the job of a parent to tell kids what is right and what is wrong, It doesn’t matter what you did as a teenager; give them rules! (I’ll get off of my soapbox now.)