Sunday, December 26, 2010

A Homemade Christmas Display

The PEZ on Earth Dance Troupe and Chorus

Saturday, December 25, 2010

PEZ Dance Troupe and Chorus

Here's my 2010 PEZ on Earth Dance Troupe and Chorus.

In case you're curious, I outlined the different parts of the props below.

The build:
All the PEZ bodies are made from white pine and luan. The heads are made from either plastic kitty litter buckets or paint buckets. I just used fabric and felt to make the hair, caps and collars. The reindeer antlers are made of wood. His nose is half of a soft drink bottle and half of a plastic rubber ball. A couple of strings of LED Christmas lights go around the stage and are timed to the music. The boxes that look like giant gift boxes hide the laptop, power supplies and control boards. Two outdoor speakers give the performance a clear, crisp sound even when not cranked up very high.

The 5 "singing" PEZ are driven with air cylinders and solenoids. The ones that go straight up as if you were loading PEZ candy into the dispenser are attached to drawer slides. Santa's and Mrs. Claus' heads are on door hinges. The "dancing" elves are on servo motors and lazy susan turntables.

Technical Info:
I used a Lynxmotion SSC-32 servo control board, APS relay control board, a Kit 74 relay board and a 2*100 watt amp board from Sure Electronics. The sensor is attached to a DLP-IO8-G 8-Channel Data Acquisition Board which is attached via a USB cable to the laptop that controls everything. I programmed the performance with Brookshire VSA and ran that through MonkeyBasic Helmsman.

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Saturday, September 18, 2010

Hungry Like the Wolf

I made this wolf creature by covering a wire reindeer sculpture with fake fur. First I had to remove the Christmas lights, antlers and wire bobtail. I used hot glue to attach the fake fur to the wire and stuck a cheap wolf mask over the head of the deer. I attached some iridescent stones for eyes.

The hollow body was the perfect place to hide a cheap MP3 player and some computer speakers so that Fluffy growls constantly. This reindeer happened to have a moving head so I attached the fur around the neck separately.

One of our cats is freaked out by Fluffy. The other cat sits right by it, as if to taunt her bully co-cat.


Tuesday, July 20, 2010

First Welding Project Completed (Sort of)

My beginner's welding class wrapped up last night and although I thought I was pretty much done with my bird at the end of the last class, I was working until clean-up time. I'm satisfied with the result but next time I'll know how to avoid the screw-ups I made on this project. I like the texture I added to the bird to hide the welds. I wish I had had the time to add more. It was a little tedious adding some welds and then grinding them down and then adding more to fill in. If I ever do it again, I'll have it down to a two step process. I didn't want to overdo it since I was winging it. No pun intended.

I thought welding was a blast and am signing up for the next session that starts in two months. I already have a project in mind.

Friday, July 16, 2010

Here Composts the Bride

Latest Halloween project: an undead bride resting quietly for eternity in her coffin. Suddenly she sits up and practically throws you the bouquet. Fun, eh? I made the coffin from fence boards. The bride's head is a prop readily available on the web and the wedding dress was a 5 dollar garage sale find. The pop up mechanism was made from PVC pipe. A pneumatic cylinder drives the prop.

I have some refinements left. I have to improve the arm/bouquet action. The inside of the coffin will be painted black. A spotlight will turn on when she sits up. She needs a bridal veil. And finally, I have to add sound effects and activate the whole thing from a motion sensor.

I also plan to build a coffin lid that appears to have the groom's head smashed through it and a hand that appears to claw at the ground from underneath the coffin lid.What am I doing here? I need to get busy!

I admit I love testing my props just as people drive by our house. They freak out for a second and then give me a big approving grin. Unless they're on their cellies, and then they never see a thing. As I like to say, "If you're not talking to Jesus, get off the damn phone." You never know what you might miss.

Tuesday, July 13, 2010

Penultimate Class

Here's my guy with his feet, legs and body welded together. He's looking pretty good.
A blurry photo (I guess he moved)
Another with flash.

Wednesday, July 07, 2010

Revenge of the Wind Ups

Once my kids discovered the magic behind stop motion video, they could not be stopped. They borrowed my camera and took thousands of pictures of Hotwheels inching their way down the hall in epic races, battles and adventures. We'd download the pictures and they'd watch as I manipulated a Picasa slideshow to simulate the "motion". Inspired, they'd rush off to film some more action. Mortified by the amount to dirt and trash on the floor, I'd try to use Picasa's limited editing tools to hide the filth in the pictures. Yes, I could have gotten up and cleaned the floors, but I'm an artist.

Eventually, they grew frustrated with the process because the Windows Movie Maker loaded on my laptop wouldn't render finished videos into any shareable format and I grew frustrated because they had all thousands of photos stored on my computer but their storylines had no beginning, middle or end, not to mention climax or denouement. And their frequent use of deus ex machina grew tiresome and predictable. I love my kids, but everyone needs some tough literary love once and a while.

Eventually we worked together to tell a story through stop motion video. We set up the scene on a table and cleaned up the background and marked the spot of the camera. We also tried to move the characters in the same distance in each shot, although we weren't too precise about that.

It didn't take much to convince the boys to use Blondie's brilliant "Attack of the Giant Ants" as the soundtrack. I migrated the project to my desktop where Movie Maker works as it should and the published work is now viewable by all. The kids have moved on to other projects but they learned a little about storytelling, preparation and minding the details of the process through this little exercise. I have learned to clean the floors more often. Or to embrace the dirt as a metaphor for my dislike of housekeeping. I am, after all, an artist.

Saturday, July 03, 2010


Today's project was pretty small-- solder this interval timer kit for my flailing zombie.

These are my weapons of choice for this job. A soldering iron and an unsoldering iron. It has another name, but who cares? It comes in handy.
Solders are looking pretty good. I have my good days and bad days, soldering-wise. Otherwise, everyday is a good day.
This is about halfway through. Notice the two puck-shaped potentiometers that look exactly the same? They are not the same and you have only one clue to tell them apart. Good luck!
Here it is completed and connected to the small offset motor from a kid's toy. The interval timer serves to turn the motor on and off at set intervals. I know better than to define a term by using that term but, hey, it's the Internet where people are always "loosing there minds", so I feel entitled.
I attached the motor to Miller's free arm and set the timer to go off for 5 second once every 60 seconds or so. Here's the effect--more like twitching than flailing. It's not quite what I wanted but I think it's just enough to freak out a few people Halloween night.

Thursday, July 01, 2010

Family Fun with Flip
and Audacity and Movie Maker. Well, not so much Movie Maker. I thought it was slow and rigid and not nearly as user friendly as the Sony software I used to use. But that was a few years and several iterations of Windows ago and we are now on a bit of an austerity program and I can't just go out and buy software on a whim.

This whim was two years in the making. I wrote the script two years ago. Last year, we tried to film it but the kids and I just got frustrated with each other. Apparently it is easy to be James Cameron nasty when your project is in the hands of uncooperative actors, even if they are your own children. On several occasions I was heard proclaiming, "I'll never work with you two again!"

"They're only children! You're a tyrant!" my husband shot back.

"It's MY movie they're destroying!"

The movie project was put on indefinite hiatus.

Finally, this year we hit upon a winning formula. We recorded the script on the computer separately and then just filmed the scenes afterward. I cut and pasted everything in a purposely sloppy way to give me some leeway for syncing up the audio and visuals. Since I wanted to mute the video's onboard audio track and add my own audio and soundtrack, I used Audacity. Audacity is freeware that makes you wonder why it's free. It's like magic. It is as flexible as Movie Maker is rigid.

The extra long opening is my indulgence. I deserve it for what I've been put through over this project. James Cameron would understand.

Monday, June 28, 2010

Last weekend, I finished two projects--staining the deck and building a set of deck chairs. The deck was simple enough although it meant several hours in the heat. We had started this project much earlier this year but time, weather and distractions conspired to delay the project until the heat of summer.

The chairs started as four cheap Adirondack chair kits from Harbor Freight. We didn't want four chairs so we modified two and made a love seat. I made foot stools with the extra chair parts and now we have a complete 4 person seating area.

The fact that the chairs and the deck are virtually the same color shows my lack of forethought. I had wanted to paint the chairs a pale green but when I got to the paint store, I chose a bluish gray instead; the fact that the deck was going to be gray didn't enter into the equation for me. That happens often.

When people tell me I could be a designer for a living, I laugh to myself. Half of the things I do that come out well are happy accidents. I doubt anyone would actually hire Happy Accidents Designs with confidence in the outcome.

I plan to add some colorful cushions and pillows so that ought to help. Another project to add to the list. But at least it's an inside job.

Sunday, June 27, 2010

Halloween is something like 127 days away-time to get busy.

Miller Light, the eternally thirsty zombie, is prop number 1 for 2010. Each part was simple and straight forward but it took a while to get all the parts to come together. The zombie is just a bucket and a PVC and foam tubing armature. There's a pump in the bucket. The pumps is attached to a tube going up to the bottle. Hidden in his jaw is a funnel, also attached to a tube so the water returns to the bucket.

Oh, and his skull is--a skull from a anatomical model store. I stained some cheesecloth with leftover coffee and use latex to apply the cheesecloth strips to his head and hand. I put coffee grounds in the still wet latex to give him that fresh out of the ground look.

His guts and the mud from which he's breaking out are make from Great Stuff foam. The tombstone is actually just part of a Styrofoam insulation sheet covered with wall compound.

I plan to add a small motor with an offset cam to add a little flailing to his free arm. I took apart a giggling stuffed toy and will use the motor and power source I found inside. I ordered a timer kit and I plan to run the power through that so that the flailing is intermittent.

I even made a spotlight for it with a super bright LED and more PVC pipe. I'll test it all out tonight when it's dark. Should be creepy. Should be fun.

Friday, June 18, 2010

Today I helped my son make chocolate cups. We got the instructions from Bakerella. We started with water balloons just like she says, but every time we tried to coat them with chocolate they popped. We had a mess on our hands and on the counter and the floor and in my hair.

Eventually we tried regular balloons and just filled them partially full of air. That worked. We had our chocolate covered balloons. We waited a while and then popped the balloons. We found out that we skimped on the cooking spray and had a little trouble getting the balloons completely out of some of the cups. We had a lot of waste but we started with a lot of balloons and chocolate, so it worked out.

We filled the cups with pudding topped with whipped cream, chocolate chips and sprinkles. I spent the rest of the afternoon scraping hardened chocolate off of, well, just about everything. I deserve a treat. I wonder where I can find one?

Sunday, June 13, 2010

One thing I make everyday is coffee. I usually make a pot every morning when I first get up. This morning I woke up at 2am. I didn't make a pot of coffee then. I waited and when I was still wide awake at 5:30, I brewed a small pot.
At least I have a project to work on in the quiet of night. I used the wee morning hours to work on the opening credits of a PSA about fireworks safety. Strictly no-budget, Flip Camera, Movie Maker, no production values to speak of but it amuses me and the kids are home for the summer, so why not? Here's the opening credits:


Tuesday, June 08, 2010

Another night at Metal Shop. The class has dwindled from 5 to 3; Becky, who's a guidance counselor at a middle school, Fred, a sweet kid who's building a motorcycle trailer, and me. Ron, the farmer, already had skills well beyond our class so I'm not surprised he gave up on the rest of us. Still, he was sharp and engaging, I miss having him around.

Today we began by welding coupons, again. I made a few practice welds and decided to try something a little different. I used a scrap piece of steel bar and bent it using a vice and a metal tube as a fulcrum. I shaped gentle curves into two coupons using the vice and a ball-peen hammer and then welded them to the bar. I used a grinder to shape the coupons into leaves. Eventually I had a passable flower stem with a couple of leaves. What I didn't have was a flower.

Luckily, we learned how to use a plasma cutter last night. The plasma cutter uses a powerful arc of electricity to cut metal relatively precisely. Our instructor cut out a seven foot marlin complete with gills and scales. I cut out 5 sad flower petals.

I welded my petals to the flower stem but two petals fell off right after I turned off the welder for the evening. Ron had taught me to adjust the welder according to the thickness of the metal, but I still burned through the thin petals. Kevin told me that I should have welded from the thick metal to the thin, letting the weld melt into the thinner piece. I was sad that I didn't leave class with a completed project, but next week I can start class by putting the metal to the petals.

Tuesday, June 01, 2010

Ron, the farmer in Metal Shop for At-Risk Seniors, told me I needed to paint my third hand or it would rust. Before class tonight, I grabbed a random can of spray paint from the garage and painted it. I now have the only gold third hand in the class. It turns out though, that it's actually called called a third finger. Good thing there's not a written test but, that's right, I made my very own Goldfinger.

Tonight we welded "coupons" again. Coupons are short, flat pieces of steel that welders use for practice. I welded mine together so they made a box and welded on a bottom plate. I had a steel box and an hour of class time left.

I decided to try to use the welding wire to make a design. It was supposed to be a flower. I'll let you decide. The instructor let me sandblast it to clean it up and then I used a grinder to add some shiny spots. Now I have a steel vase. Or I would if it held water. I'm probably a few weeks away from ship building.

Monday, May 31, 2010

The pulled pork was a success. It was delicious, tender and juicy. It fell off the bone. The bark produced by the rub had a remarkable and addicting flavor perhaps because of its copious quantity of ground dark coffee. The barbecue sauce was great but somewhat superfluous because the meat stood so well on its own. My husband said it was better than any he has eaten. And, unlike me, he has actually eaten pulled pork before. I can't really take credit, all I did was follow instructions.

To complete the Southern barbecue theme, I made homemade soft rolls, carrot and raisins salad and strawberry sheet cake to go with it. The kids scarfed the rolls down with just butter and jelly right out of the oven. The strawberry cake was amazing. My 7 year old took one bite and said, "Whoa! This is so moist, it's better than any cake I've tasted!" I own the carrot and raisin salad now because no one really liked it but me. "I think you added too much honey. It's a little too sweet," said the boy whose breakfast of choice is a bowl full of marshmallows.

There are leftovers of everything except the rolls so today I can focus on finishing an Adirondack chair project and putting the finishing touches on a Halloween prop. Happy Memorial Day!

Saturday, May 29, 2010

I don't cook meat. I can rarely cook a chicken breast that isn't too dry or too pink. My kids call my standard underdone poultry 'Cheerleader Chicken' because so often it is raw-raw-raw.

I recently found a no-fail recipe for bacon wrapped pork tenderloin for which, to my surprise, I wasn't the exception. Based on that singular success, I've moved on to a recipe I found for Texas styled pulled pork.

I have never tasted pulled pork. Before I moved to NC I had never even heard of pulled pork. Until recently, I thought it was a culinary cousin of the loose meat sandwich that was such comic fodder on Roseanne. But with pork butt on sale for 98 cents a pound on the opening weekend of barbecue season, the stars are aligned for a new learning experience. Besides,'pork butt' is just fun to say.

So last night when I couldn't sleep, I got up and started making a coffee-chipotle rub and chipotle barbecue sauce for the 7 pound pork shoulder (butt included) I bought yesterday. The recipe calls chipotle powder which isn't a standard stocked item at the local grocery store. In fact, Pace Picante Sauce is stocked with the ethnic food as if Texas is a foreign country. So the first step was to roast some chipotle peppers in the oven. I ground them in the grinder formerly known for coffee. Who needs sleep?

The rub done, I moved on to the barbecue sauce. I was wide awake when I started but the 40 minutes of sauteing and simmering was all I needed to finally feel dozy. Luckily, with help from a sleepy lick of a spoonful of fiery hot adobe sauce, I managed to finish the barbecue sauce without falling asleep in it. The rub and sauce done, I finally went back to bed at 3:30 wondering how to cook a 7 pound pork butt at 200 degrees for 14 hours and catch up on my sleep.

Tuesday, May 25, 2010

I signed up for Metal Art for Beginners because I've always been intrigued by metal sculptures. My mind simultaneously holds two thoughts when I see something I like: "Hey, that's fascinating," and "How hard could that be?" I decided to find out for myself. So for a hundred dollars I signed up for a class that promised that I would leave the class with a piece of yard art. Sounds lofty, but between my house and the metal shop there are at least fourteen people who believe that tire planters are yard art.

The class is 30 miles away in a very rural county and is held in the metal shop of an alternative learning high school. The place is dirty, and ill kept as if everyone has given up on the building and its occupants. Our instructor said that he's seen students making weapons in class. He said the teacher tried to kick the weapon makers out of class but the the parents complained and so the kids returned. The teacher said he'd quit but that out of the twenty kids in class (20 kids with torches and blades!) there are about three who are worth going to work for. Unless one of them is the next Holly Fisher,(That's her work on the right.) I worry that he's just desperate for a paycheck.

Our first functional welding project: a third hand (It helps hold vertical pieces of metal while welding. One of the guys in my welding class also said that the third hand could be used to hook a slaughtered pig and hang it up off the slaughterhouse floor. Good to know.) Also in photos: an example of my awesome welding skills. Anyone got a lawn mower that needs fixing?

Monday, May 24, 2010

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Today, I made peanut butter cookies dipped in chocolate and chopped peanuts before I went to Metal Shop.
I like making things.
Bread, cake, pies.
Cookies, appetizers, granola.
Fences, gates, fountains.
Gardens, tables, decks.
Cheesy music videos featuring my kids.
Halloween props.
Animated Christmas decorations.
My kids happy.
This blog will be about those.

I hate making things, too.
School lunches, beds, big messes.
The status quo.
This blog will not be these.