The Fairy Godmother Project, Part 1

I haven’t posted since September 27th, but I have a great reason for that… and I’d like to share. Something really amazing happened, and I’m so grateful to have had the opportunity to be a part of it. I’m digging through a MOUNTAIN of photos and information for this, so be forewarned – this will be a long entry. Well, two actually…

It’ll be worth it though, I swear.

On that afternoon, I was looking for something to do, to procrastinate from what I was supposed to be doing – working on my next cookbook. I just wasn’t “feeling it” that afternoon, and I really do work better when I can get away from a project for a bit.

As luck would have it, that opportunity presented itself in a timely manner. As I was messing around on Facebook, my friend Heidi posted the following to a group of Gen X Mensa Women:

“Weepy Mom Moment: My almost 15 yo Aspie, who was picked on in elementary school and used to come home crying because she had no friends, and who, according to one teacher, used to play with a tree at recess, is in the final voting round to be homecoming Princess for her grade!

The final vote was today, and all the kids in two of her classes told her that they voted for her. They find out the results at the homecoming dance on Oct. 6. She was beaming as she told me – guess I’ll be scraping up the $75 for that ticket after all… “

A few comments of congratulations and support followed, and then Heidi had this to say:

“She wanted to know if I could sew her a gown like one of her video game characters. I almost fainted. I finally convinced her that we’d have to buy one. “

My ears (eyes?) Perked up at this point. A CHALLENGE! I could HELP. She thought something was impossible, and I could prove her wrong! Sounded right up my alley, so I probed for some more details on the dress – which was a Neopets gown (Click here to view the inspiration dress, from a post on the Neopets website) – saw that it was something I was perfectly capable of making, and gave Heidi a call.

Now, Heidi and I have had a … complicated… relationship over the short time I’ve known her – and I’ve only ever known her online. We don’t see eye to eye on pretty much anything with regards to politics or religion, and that has led to things like arguments, de-friendings on Facebook … I had her blocked for a while… Yeah.

BUT I have always respected her for how she has made such efforts to understand and accommodate her daughter. Her daughter and I both have Aspergers, and I’ve got to say – having come from a really horrible upbringing… it always warms my heart to see a fellow Aspie being treated so well by a parent. It’s bittersweet, for me… makes me a bit envious, makes me a bit sad for what could have been… but also restores a bit of faith in humanity for me. (I don’t have a lot of it!)

I could do something nice for both of them!

So, I called Heidi up. Given our somewhat tumultuous history, I’m still surprised that she replied to my opening: “Heidi, how much do you trust me?” in such a positive way. When she affirmed that yes, she trusts me completely.. I told her that I could absolutely make that gown, even on the ridiculous timeline we were looking at. It was a Thursday evening, and her event was the following Saturday. In Florida…. and I had 2 days in between where I was solidly booked and had no time for sewing!

So we agreed – she would pay for the fabrics, I would make the gown as fast as I could, ship it overnight, and they would get any needed alterations on their end.

That evening, I instructed her on how to take the measurements I would need, over the phone. It was amusing to hear it all go down – us Aspies aren’t necessarily the best about being touched, and I could hear that Abby was feeling pretty awkward about the measurements.

I immediately set about my business – there was a lot to be done in a short amount of time. Also, I had not made a gown in years, AND I’d be doing it without opportunity for a fitting. Heidi had never taken measurements before, AND there was some confusion as to the accuracy of two of the measurements… oh, adventure!

As I was plotting the logistics, Heidi was overwhelmed with emotion at the whole thing.


My preliminary sketch


“Note to self: buy waterproof mascara before posting awesome kiddo moments. Let me tell you, when she was 3 1/2 and banging her head against the wall, and the doctor said, and I quote, “Your child will never be normal”, I did not know what her future would look like. All I knew was that the dreams for my beautiful daughter were crushed.”

She told us of how Abby had struggled to make friends in school, and how it had broken Heidi’s heart when, at a friend’s birthday party, Abby ran to their bedroom, threw herself down on the bed sobbing, and said, “Everybody treats me like a stray dog”.

When Heidi explained how cool people like Einstein and Mozart probably had Asperger’s, too, and it was part of why she was so smart, Abby cried “I wish I had friends instead of being smart”.

That broke MY heart. I could relate to all of it.

Oh, how on earth do I compile everything that happened into one blog entry, and in a coherent manner?

What happened – starting almost immediately after Heidi’s initial post – is something that this group of friends has come to refer to as a “LadyNerd Tsunami”.

A few people wanted to chip in to the fabric fund, asking for my Paypal. Heidi and I agreed, they’d send to me, and I’d deduct it from the total that Heidi would reimburse.

… except the entire ~$200 fabric bill was completely paid for within 24 hours.

… and then, the shipping was covered very shortly after announcing that the fabric was covered.

… and then more money was sent to Heidi, completely covering the cost for a huge crinoline, shoes, and earrings.

My friend Sarah, of Sarah Elizabeth Artistry loaned me a dressform to use, as I had long ago sold mine.

My friend Lauren, of Style in Abundance custom made a gorgeous filigree pendant for the dress, sending it along with a note that made all of us cry.

My friend Laura shipped the black satin opera gloves that she had worn to her own prom, as a gift.


Lauren’s pendant
As I’d never shipped a gown before, I called up my friend Felicia at The Chapel of Love in the Mall of America, asking for advice on boxes, packing, etc. She generously offered to box it for me, free of charge – she wouldn’t even take reimbursement for materials. THEN, she was so excited at the whole story of what was happening, she donated a gorgeous sparkly crystal headband for Abby!

All told, Abby had 24 Fairy Godmothers contributing – from as far away as Finland – and most of them were on board before I’d even purchased the fabric!

Shortly before I purchased the fabric, Heidi posted a comment that had me giggling long after the fact:

“OMG, Marie, she just came in and asked if I had sent you the email on colors yet. I said yes. She said, ‘oh, I was just going to say that if she wanted to add a small amount of sequins or something, you know, like just along the edges, just to make it look nice, she could.’ YOU ARE THE ASPERGER’S WHISPERER!! THIS IS THE FIRST SPARKLY THING SHE HAS EVER ALLOWED!!!!”

Energized by what was going on, I went and picked up the fabric – blue, green, and black, per Abby’s request. I went home, flipped on Pandora radio, and was pleasantly greeted by 2 Unlimited’s “Get Ready for This”… what a great way to kick off drafting my first gown pattern in the better part of a decade!

I had only 4 days available to make the gown, so progress went quickly. Every time I finished a major step, I took a short break to post an update photo to Facebook. On her end, Heidi would post comments and photos about how excited her daughter Abby was.


Abby, on seeing the gown sketch for the first time

A lot of us were living vicariously through what was going on, with several commenting on how they hadn’t gone to prom, etc. We were all able to see a little bit of ourselves in Abby, and there were SO many tears of happiness along the way!


Heidi with the donated crinoline
Heidi kept updating her Facebook profile photo to reflect current updates – a new step in the dress, the photo Lauren had sent of the pendant, the arrival of the crinoline – and had set her “cover” photo to the picture of the fabric / sketch of the dress that I had sent from the fabric store. It was SO much fun to see how excited she was over the whole thing!

I kept all of the updates positive, even though I was experiencing some MAJOR drama during the making of this dress. This post will be the first that anyone hears of what was going on, hahah!

First off, there was serger drama. Our needle plate is broken, with a snapped off piece being held on by a quickie epoxy job. Any weird noise – click, crunch, whatever – had my heart stop. The replacement piece should have been here in tons of time for this, but during the course of sewing, we found that it had been discontinued. I was holding my breath the entire time, hoping that my Macguyvered machine would hold up.

Then, the timing went off on my sewing machine. Awesome. I was so dreading the possibility of having to post an emergency Facebook status, looking for a loaner machine ASAP.

In the end, though, it all held up!
While the strength/endurance of my sewing machines were questionable, the same couldn’t be said for my ego. The comments that were flying – literally, HUNDREDS – basically had me convinced that I’m the Tony Stark of fabric. So many wonderful things being said, I spent a good portion of the past week blushing like mad. Much peer pressure to get on Project Runway, even though I really hate sewing, and have NO desire to ever do so for a living – EVER! – again!

Oh, and according to one of my former cake clients, I am a “Goddess of Creation”! Sounds like a bit of an upgrade from “Evil Cake Overlord”, eh? Awesome!

I had NO idea that my little offer would turn into such a big thing, but I am seriously thankful for all of the kind words!


The Finished Gown

Felicia <3!
ANYWAY.

The gown was finished on time, Wednesday before noon. My husband came home from work to take some professional photos, and then I was off to the Mall of America to have the gown boxed.

I just want to say, I absolutely adore Felicia Glass-Wilcox of The Chapel of Love. Definitely one of my favorite people in the wedding industry – super friendly, nice, and easy to work with. I loved seeing how excited she was to get involved, and really appreciated her expertise in boxing my gown. I had a fun time!

Felicia then looked up shipping rates at UPS and FedEx, and advised me that – in her experience – USPS would be cheaper… so she looked THAT up for me, too. Yep – about half the price. Score!

The box was shipped, and dozens of us waited impatiently for the results…


(Click here for Part 2! Also, visit our Facebook Page for an album of progress photos from the whole project, HERE)

How to Custom Design and Install a Nerdy Granite Tile Backsplash

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My tornado memoir – “Twisted” was released on 05/22/12! click here for more details, or to purchase!
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So, I know it’s not EXACTLY food related… but tiling an awesome back splash is KITCHEN related, and tutorials are *almost* recipes, right? I swear this is actually a food blog…!

Remember back when I debuted the photos of our finished bathroom renovation, with Fibonacci sequence tiled into the main wall, and a few digits of pi tiled behind the toilet? It was a last minute design idea, and it was to be a subtle, small nod to our nerdiness.

Well, one thing led to another… and now we have 159 digits of pi tiled into our kitchen backsplash. If you follow me on Twitter, you’re probably sick of hearing about it by now… but I not only have the final photos, I have a tutorial on how to do it yourself!

Now, I know we went sort of nuts with the pi day celebrations last year… but this really takes it to a whole new level. We’re happy to have this in place in time for this year’s party, but… damn. No idea how we’ll top this for Pi day 2013. Or, you know, 2015, when we should really go all out! (3/14/15!)

I guess the one good thing about getting your house destroyed by a tornado is that it forces you to get off your butt, make a bunch of design decisions and actually DO renovations on the house, rather than just talk about “someday, it would be cool if…”.

We still have quite a ways to go, but the house really is looking great. We won’t have cabinet faces and doors for a WHILE – still waiting for the lumber we had milled to be properly dried, so we can build all that. Oh well. I think the fact that the black walnut that destroyed our kitchen is being used to rebuild it is badass enough to be worth the wait! Anyway…

Now, I realize that the odds of anyone else tiling pi into their kitchen is fairly slim… but this tutorial is also good for anyone who wants to put in a new backsplash, but with a personal twist. The photos and specifics here are for pi, but the principles can apply to any design you can think up, with 2″ x 2″ tiles.

For instance..

– Using two favorite colors to create a custom checkerboard design, should you not be happy with the small amount of pre-fab options out there.

– If you look at the tiles as “pixels”, you can do pretty much anything you can come up with that is 9-10 squares tall, by however long you want.

– Tetris!

– Music fans or musicians could make an amazing “equalizer” type design!

I can’t tell you how rewarding it is to look at a finished, completely custom backsplash, and know that it is YOURS… and it wasn’t the difficult! On to the tutorial….

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How to Make Homemade Banana Wine

Homemade banana wine is an interesting thing, in a few ways.

For one, by the time you’re ready to add the yeast to get the product started… well, you’re working with a liquid that just looks revolting. Muddy brown-grey dishwater looking stuff. You add the yeast, cross your fingers, and hope for the best.

Then, the yeast starts acting on it. Oh BOY does it ever! I’ve never seen such violent fermentation before! It really was a sight to behold.

One day, you walk by your carboys, and you think “Hrm. My orange mead looks really yellow for some reason”… and then you realize that you’re looking at your banana wine. All of a sudden, that ugly, milky looking mixture clarified at some point. It left you with a gorgeous, brilliantly golden yellow and crystal clear wine.

… and it tastes like heavily banana-flavored Everclear! Yes, we’ve termed our banana wine “Banana Jet Fuel” for good reason – it comes in at a whopping 20% ABV!

No worries though – let your finished wine age for about a year after bottling, and you’ll be rewarded with a smooth, flavorful wine that packs a punch! The harsh “Everclear” flavor will age right out.

Banana wine is very easy – and very CHEAP – to make. Also, it finishes a unique color, which will make a beautiful addition to your wine rack – or gift.

If you haven’t attempted making wine before, don’t be intimidated! Check out our primer to home brewing, it starts here, with parts 2 and 3 here and here. Just a small handful of entries, and you’ll be good to go!

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Pecan Pie Cookies

I’ve been a bit conflicted over posting this recipe.

Generally speaking, every recipe I post is something that I’ve either developed completely from scratch, or made as a “Frankenstein” recipe, utilizing bits and pieces of ingredients and techniques of several recipes – like my Jamaican Beef Patties recipe.

This recipe? I’ve had it for years, but I now have NO idea where it came from. I’m pretty sure it came from one of the posters on a cake forum I used to frequent, but who specifically, or where SHE got it from? No idea. It looks like it’s since become a popular recipe out there on the interwebs, though!

Anyway – way back when – I asked for permission to use this recipe as a holiday offering through Celebration Generation… and the cookies always got rave reviews. I can’t count how many times I’ve been asked for the recipe! What with the weather cooling down, I figure it’s cookie making season, and time to share it!

I have not contributed any major changes to the recipe, but I like to add a couple pinches of spice to the filling, as noted. Hope I’m not losing any baker’s cred by posting this, but I know it’ll make a bunch of people happy. Plus, I think the photos are just too pretty to NOT share.

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Shot Tectonics – The Science of Layered Shooters

Layering shots is not only a pretty way to pour delicious drinks, it’s also a lot of fun. A bit of flavor mixology, some math, some experimentation, pretty colors… that’s always a recipe for entertainment! It’s a shame that it seems to be a technique that’s gone out of favor – the fast paced environment of today’s clubs has put a kibosh on the previous popularity of layering. Bah! Let’s bring it back!

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W00tstock Awesomeness.

I had fully intended to write this blog yesterday, but I was a complete zombie. I’m *mostly* recovered now, so let’s see if I can do this thing justice!

Back in the beginning of March, I received an email from one of my tweeps. She excitedly told me that w00tstock was coming to Minneapolis, and “I don’t know about you, but I think w00tstock would be better with cake!”

Well, I had to agree, so I got a hold of Paul and Storm, the geeked out musical comedians in charge. Offered up some cake, they were interested, mentioned I’d have my husband – a photographer along with me to take pics… they asked if he’d be willing to be the official backstage photographer (Willing? Hell YES he was!)…
and we were on track for an adventure in epic geekery!

The plan was to make a surprise “Tardis” cake for Adam Savage & Wil Wheaton. Hubby would photograph the goings on, while I doled out samples of our caffeinated brownies and blondies (from our line of baking mixes. Cake would be served, geeking out would occur, and it would be an awesome night.

Monday was the day, finally! It had been difficult to not blab the details of the cake design itself, while I had been free to tweet that I would be DOING a cake. Everyone wants to know what it’ll look like, especially when it’s a.) Geeky, and b.) Intended for geek royalty! This blog entry is gonna get long and image-heavy, so click through to read & gawk! (more…)