Cake Toppin’ It Off


Wedding cake topper I made, for about $15. It includes some of our favorite things in life: the dog, books for me, and computers for John.

In college, my roommates and I would gather in the hallowed hallways of our dormitory, sharing empty calories and offering up independent theories on why Room 206 smelled like stale sex and green olives.  Two girls occupied the room in question.  One believed she was a vampire, descended from cats and/or unicorns (she was hoping for both, if I recall correctly).  The other hosted slumber parties with the local high school boys, who tried their hardest to look like college men.  For whatever reason, they ended up looking more like the singer, P!nk, but without her namesake’s hair color.  It was all about the frosted blond tips, back then.  We never could figure out who had the olive fixation.

When not discussing the great olfactory mysteries of our time, we were comparing notes on where we’d like to be, in life.  There was the usual grab bag mix of future lawyers, doctors, doctors’ wives and starving artists.  Because when you’re 18 and living virtually rent-free, being a successful artist is both an oxymoron and insult to the craft.  Other dreams weren’t quite as ambitious.  A few expressed interest in sleeping their way to the middle.  Or at least a free meal.  For myself, I just wanted to be able to afford a cartful of groceries, at Whole Foods, one day.  We were young, with goals to attempt to accomplish and bucket lists to fall into and never make it out of.

My love/hate relationship with Whole Foods began in the summer of 2001.  Every weekend, a friend and I would scavenge enough coins, from between the car seats, and fill up the gas tank, to a level “just above E.”  Then, we’d make our way to the original Whole Foods in Austin, and spend most of the day sampling free food and grazing from the bulk bin section.  At day’s end, I’d stand in line with my dollar’s worth of bulk bin granola and pay with the remainder of my car cushion coins.

I’m 31 now, and have come to the realization that Whole Foods’ appeal is that they make sure that no one can really afford it.  A while ago, I filled my cart up with an impressive array of non-essentials.  Fresh pasta made by the grandma I’d imagine I’d have if I were Italian, vegan pastries made by non-vegan trophy wives in Colorado, cider with an alcohol content so low, it’s probably a great one to share with your underaged children (during BYOB playdates and such), and Seventh Generation cleaning supplies that somehow do less cleaning than a cleaning lady hired with a Groupon.

The total was enough to cover America’s national deficit.   I think.  I can’t remember.  I tend to black out terrible memories involving cash.  The cashier read my total, then asked if I’d like to donate my bag refund to some undisclosed charity.  Then, if I’d like to round up to the nearest dollar for another charity involving kids, somewhere.  Finally, she asked if I’d like to just give a specific dollar amount, anywhere between $5-$500, to another one. Maybe it’s the same charity. Who knows.  I think you get a free calendar, keys to the store and a rescue puppy if you do.

And that’s when I realize that I can never truly afford Whole Foods.  Sure, I can afford the cart of non-essential groceries, but I can never afford to adopt that family of four, in Swaziland, with a weekly check-out line donation of $500.  As the college-aged cashier bags up my fair-trade/shade-grown/free-roamed olives, the look on her face reads I guess not everyone can afford to shop with us.  I just don’t shop there as often anymore.  Only when I feel like I don’t need money anymore, but do need that soy-free/dairy-free/gluten-free gulp of air Whole Foods has packaged in a nice recycled box and selling for $6.99. $7.19, with tax and bag refund donated.  $8, rounded up for those kids you keep hearing about.  $508, for that family of four.

When I began the planning process of our wedding, over a year ago, my Whole Foods’ experience came back to mind.  Weddings can be cheap, but the industry doesn’t want you to ever think so.  Your flowers will never be as fresh as that girl’s bouquet, the one from The Hills.  Unless you hire the florist-to-the-stars.  The same one who makes you put down a deposit of “first child” to secure a date. If you tell a caterer that you have a food budget of $10,000, they’ll push you toward the $15,000 package deal.  The plan that includes two servers per guest.  One to peel and hand-feed seedless grapes to your family and friends.  The other to wipe mouths and any other orifice that needs wiping and tending to.  The dress lady will put you in $9,000 dollar dresses, even when you tell her your budget is for two-thirds that amount.  So, like Whole Foods, I just didn’t go there unless I was felt like I wanted to be taken advantage of.  Every time a vendor pushed me towards a higher spending limit, I walked out the door and never went back.

Instead of depending on the wedding industry to give me my dream wedding, I relied heavily on myself.  Sure, I hired a photographer, who I found at a wedding show (that I attended for free, thanks to a Facebook contest); but everything else was either made by me, collected by John and I, created by my family or bought at a steep discount. For instance, my Jenny Packham dress was purchased for 20% off the ticket price.  The rest of the things were bought at thrift stores or foraged for.  I made virtually everything: my own veil, hangers, fireplace alter and even wrote personal letters to each guest (using vintage paper from Goodwill).

We didn’t hire a wedding planner.  I’m sure they work wonders for their clients, but for us, it wasn’t even an option.  We used the extra cash to fly in our parents for the wedding, instead.  One of the first things I made for our wedding was our cake topper.  Here’s what I made.


List of things to get: 4 wooden balls, about 1 inch in diameter with a large hole on one end. 2 wooden balls, about half an inch in diameter and large hole on one end. 14 wooden beads, about half a centimeter in diameter, with a hole through the center. 4 bamboo skewers. 2 wooden dowels (1/2 centimeter in diameter) and about 1.5-2.5 inches in length. 5 pipe cleaners. Some small rectangular pieces of wood. Unused business cards. Wire thread. Felt and/or scrap fabrics. Drill and glue.


Step 1: For the bodies, you want to cut a piece of felt into a circle. Take the 1-inch balls and drill two small holes (large enough for the bamboo skewers to fit through) on the opposite end of the large pre-cut hole.


Step 2: Place the ball, large hole side up, on top of the felt. Add glue to the large hole and tuck the edges of the felt fabric into it. Trim the fabric to fit into the opening. Place the half-centimeter dowels into the hole. It should fit snugly.


Step 4: Feel out the two small holes you drilled and poke in two bamboo skewers. You can trim the length later. I stabilized it with a ball of yarn in a pitcher.


Step 5: You will need arms. Take the piper cleaners and twist two together. Place on top of the wooden dowel and add a dab of glue.


Step 6: I added a head by placing a 1-inch ball on top.


Step 7: Because every cake topper needs pants, I sewed a pair out of felt. I took two pieces of fabric, about two centimeters wide and three inches long. I sewed along the length and turned it inside out.


Step 8: Thread each “leg” through a skewer. Then thread a half-centimeter wooden ball to either end. Secure with glue. I wrapped a piece of wire to hold the ball in place while it dried. While that was drying, I cut a piece of felt to form a cylinder around the abdomen of the cake topper. I sewed with a contrasting thread, about two-thirds up the length.


Step 8: Using sharp scissors, I poked two small holes where I wanted the arms to be. Then I pulled out the pipe cleaners. After, I folded the top of the cylindrical fabric over, to form a collar. The same red thread was used to sew a ‘hem’ around the neckline.


Step 9: I sewed on a button to the collar and added in the coat arms, in the same manner as the pant legs. I also folded up the sleeves for a cuff.


Step 10: Using old business cards and wooden rectangles I had, leftover from a past project, I fashioned mini-books and a laptop. Cut the business cards just a bit smaller than the wood pieces. Glue the paper together. Then add one wooden rectangle, to either end. On one side, cut a strip of wood to form the book’s spine.


Step 11: Paint the books. The laptop is just one wood piece, painted.


Step 12: For the dog, I wanted her to peek out from underneath a book. So, I fashioned an “open book” using a business card and three wooden pieces.


Step 13: The dog’s book was “Beo-woof.” For the dog, I used the half inch circles. One for the head and one for the body, under the book. Both were connected with glued pieces of pipe cleaner. The tail and legs were fashioned with the same material, but with small wooden balls glued to the ends. Felt was fashioned into ears and a nose was made from a dark ball and some bamboo skewers.


Step 14: I used the same methods to make the cake topper version of myself. Except, I trimmed by outfit with lace and had my own favorite literature to hold. A few steps ago, I also found an old book by Melville. I drilled two pairs of holes into the book. I then cut the ‘legs’ to about half an inch past the small balls. I put some glue into the holes and poked the ‘legs’ into them. Drill deeper for a more stable hold.


Step 14: I added a messenger bag onto John’s replica, since I accidentally got paint on that side of his coat and needed to cover it. But basically, paint your faces on and you’re done!

Thank You For Not Stealing My Baby Name; Here’s A Bookcase

My Facebook Friends List looks suspiciously like a page torn out of a daycare center’s yearbook.  Don’t ask me how my friends look like nowadays.  I wouldn’t be able to pick them out of a police line up. Or at a party in my own home.  It happened overnight, it seems like.  Profile pictures of college students performing keg stands have been slowly replaced by two year olds doing milk chugs.  Friends are always encouraging us to have babies as soon as possible but my response?  “We’re in no rush.  It’s kind of nice to sit back and learn from everyone else’s mistakes”.  At any given moment, my News Feed reads like a CliffsNotes version of What To Expect When You’re Expecting.  Or for some, What To Expect When You’re (Not) Expecting.  I find it all fascinating.  Thanks to social media, I now know what to feed a child for the best abstract diaper art.  Beets and leafy greens for color.  Corn for texture.  But more importantly, I’ve been fully educated on the cutthroat business of choosing a baby name.  And I’m not even expecting.

The age of sixteen was when I first became aware of the stress involved in naming a child. I was working at a Mexican restaurant called Pappasito’s at the time.  There, I met one of the most influential persons in my life.  I can’t recall her name, but that’s not very important. What is important is that her son was named Markweist.  Inexplicably, it is pronounced in the same manner as “Marcus”.  In her defense, she would’ve named her child Marcus but made the mistake of sharing her chosen name with her best friend.  The best friend had a baby before she did and ended up using the name herself.  It was all very tragic.  It was then, while wearing a sombrero and calling out for “Smith, party of two and a half!”, that I realized the importance of choosing a baby name early on and keeping it to oneself.  I mean, you could share but who wants to add on 22 extra letters to a name because your best friend decided to lift yours?  Unacceptable.  If you don’t end up wanting kids, you can always use the name for a dog or a pet alpaca.  Benjamin Theodore Thomas Ferguson III makes for a great alpaca name, I’ve heard.

So when our friends “C” and “O” decided to name their newborn “Baby S”, I was elated. One, the baby is healthy and beautiful.  And two, Baby S was not on my radar of potential baby names.  As a baby shower gift (as well as a Thank You gift for not using my baby name), I decided to go with two items.  One to use and one to amuse.  For the practical side, a Diaper Genie was chosen.  And since some of my favorite memories centered around books and libraries, I decided to make Baby S her very own miniature bookcase. Out of an old jewelry box.  Here’s what I used:

  • Wooden jewelry box.  Get the tall one with the doors.  I got one from Goodwill for $9.99.
  • Paint & paintbrush
  • Scrapbook paper
  • Sandpaper
  • Screwdriver
  • Saw
  • Double stick tape
  • Pencil/felt tipped pen
  • E-6000 glue
  • Scrap pieces of wood.  I had a damaged paint canvas that had a wooden frame.  I used that.


Step 1:  Using a screwdriver, remove the doors, hardware and drawers.  Then strip off the velvet they use to cover it all.  Mine was mauve pink.  Hopefully, yours has festive velvet coloration as well.  Here’s a picture of me peeling away.  Just in case you’re unsure of how to peel.  Sometimes I forget.  Usually after midnight on the weekends.


Step 2:  Next, take a low grit sandpaper and start sanding.  Just enough to get the clear coat off so that your paint will stick.


Step 3:  Brush off the sawdust and wipe it down a few times with a damp cloth.  Then paint it with your choice of paint color.  I chose a Behr color.  I can’t remember what it was called but it had the word “cottage” in it.  Cottage cream or cottage dream.  Who knows. You’ll need a few coats of this stuff though.


Step 4:  Leave that jewelry box alone for a day to dry.  Then take some more low grit sandpaper and lightly sand the edges to give it a distressed look.  Don’t press down too hard or else you’ll end up taking off too much and the whole thing will look more damaged than distressed.


Step 5:  Cut out scrapbook paper to fit the back of the jewelry box.  You might want to measure first.  Then find your stash of pencils.  No one seems to have pencils anymore but you’ll want to track some down for this.


Step 6:  On a purple/grey paper, I used a ruler to measure out half inch lines.  Then I went on Google Fonts and chose a few different styles.  Using some of my favorite quotes from children’s books and poems, I drew them onto the paper freehand.  I left a little area blank in anticipation of the shelf that will go there.


Step 7:  Once that was done, I took a black felt tipped pen and traced the letters.  Then I erased the pencil lines.  It came out quite well.  The quotes I used were written by Roald Dahl, Shel Silverstein, A. A. Milne and Dr. Seuss.  Take the double sided tape and stick these onto the back of the jewelry box.


Step 8:  Locate your scrap wood.  Again, mine was just the wooden frame to a damaged canvas.  I found that the width of each wooden piece was roughly half of the depth of the jewelry box.  So, I could use two to make a shelf.  Measure and cut the wood to size.  You will want a shelf that is the depth and width of your box.  Then, cut out two extra pieces about half a centimeter in square thickness.  The length will be the depth of your box.  This sounds difficult but look at the picture after this one and it makes more sense.  It’s relatively easy.


Step 9:  Paint the wooden pieces in the same color you’ve been using.  Then affix the two small wood pieces onto the jewelry box using the E-6000 glue.  You will want one on either side.  Place it where you’d like to see the shelf sit.  Then place the wooden “shelf” piece on top.


Step 569:  Almost done.  You might want to start making plans to do normal things like pee and shower again.  I found a wooden letter “S”, so I decided to glue that on top.  I would’ve painted it but thought the raw wood was cute.  I’m sure the newborn will approve.


Step 1425:  Buy some books.  This is the fun part.  Children’s books come in all shapes and sizes so I bought the ones that were able to fit into the baby’s bookcase.  “O” and “C” are both in the software industry and plan on teaching their child the programming language, Ruby.  I couldn’t find a small edition of that so I settled for Linux instead.  Along with her Dr. Seuss books.


Step 22.5:  Baby S is also fortunate enough to have parents who are both fluent in Spanish.  So I threw in a little Spanish translator.  It’ll come in handy when she’s nineteen, and in Cancun during spring break, trying to order a beer.  Or find her way to a biblioteca.  While drinking a beer.


And here is the gift for Baby S.  Hopefully, she’ll remember this gift when I’m too old to drive and need a lift to the liquor store, library and bookstore.  All in that order.  Then repeat.


Tin Can-delier: Chandelier Made Of Tin Cans

My fiancé is vegan.  He’s been one since the days of Walkmans and floppy disks.  The urban foraging obsession came much later, though.  I woke up one morning, years ago, to find him consuming what appeared to be houseplants.  “Are you eating our hanging fuchsia?” I ask him.  He stops chewing for a second and tells me, “Yeah.  I found out on Wikipedia that the fruits are edible.  Isn’t that amazing?  It’s like a hanging food source we’ve been unaware of!”.  I quickly assess the situation and respond, “Shall I take you to Home Depot’s garden section for brunch, my love?”.  Honestly, I have no idea what took him so long to make the trek north to Seattle to be with his fellow people.  Maybe he wanted to collect enough plaid shirts to pair up with his Marmot jackets, along the way. Who knows.

The public parks here are like grocery stores to him.  Leave him alone at Discovery Park for thirty seconds, and he’s already knee deep in some wild berry bushes.  Ask him where he is and he’ll respond, “Aisle five!”.  “You mean, the North Beach trailhead?” I yell back. “Same thing,” he tells me.  Once, he came wandering back to me while popping wild blueberries into his mouth.  He tells me that they’re amazingly fresh yet oddly salty.  I looked at him, then the dewy fruit and explain to him, “Um, that’s probably dog pee you’re tasting”.


Life is wonderful for an urban forager, here in Seattle.  When it’s spring, summer or fall, that is.  The fruits, mushrooms and my patio plants are plentiful during those seasons. When it’s wintertime and Discovery Park is no longer offering free food service, my fiancé starts urban foraging through our kitchen cupboards.  He loves finding canned beans.  I am a huge fan of tuna.  During the wintertime, we manage to go through a small pile of canned goods by the end of the week.  These cans are then brought to the recycling area about a hundred yards away.  One day, laziness and creativity were playing particularly well together and I decided to make something out of my stash of tin cans versus walking them to the recycling area.  I decided to make a chandelier made out of tin cans.  Then I named it my “tin-candeiler”.  Here’s what you’ll need:

  • Lampshade with the shade part removed.  So, just the wire frame.  Goodwill has plenty.
  • Wire mesh.  You can get this off of an old window screen.
  • Wire
  • Lightbulb
  • Small chain.  I used old chain necklaces for this.
  • Lamp kit.  Get one at Home Depot or find an old lamp and strip it for its cord/lightbulb socket.
  • Scissors
  • Drill with various sized drill bits
  • Lots and lots of aluminum can tops
  • 2 large aluminum can bodies.  They should both be large enough to fit over your lightbulb.
  • Heavy duty gloves
  • Thin nails and hammer
  • Wooden board


Step 1:  The list of materials calls for a “lampshade with the shade part removed” but I assume most people haven’t done that yet.  So, let’s go ahead and do that, shall we?

Step 2:  Take the wire mesh and cover the entire lampshade frame.  It will look like a very shallow sifter.  Attach the mesh to the frame with wires.  Then, cut a hole in the middle where the center is.  This will be where you thread the lightbulb cord through.  A centimeter in width is what you’re aiming for when cutting that hole.

Step 3:  Once you have that set up, go ahead and poke the lightbulb and cord through. Hang this up to the side somewhere for now.  It’ll probably be lopsided.  Mess with it later.

Step 4:  Take inventory of your aluminum tops.  Then gauge how important your fingers are to you.  This project is a great one for anyone possessing extra phalanges.  You might, in all likelihood, lose a few digits.  So, you’ll want to wear some gloves for this project.  Then divide your goods into three piles.  Half of the tops should go into one pile and the rest should be divided evenly into two piles of 25% each.

Step 5:  For 25% of the tops, you’ll want to trim off…oh, let’s say a half centimeter of material from the edge, all around.  Place this onto a wooden board and nail it down with two nails.  Situate these two nails about two millimeters away from the edge and at polar opposite ends.  This will secure the tops so that you won’t have a dangerous spinning disc when drilling.

Step 6:  Okay, so now you can go ahead and drill some holes.  Use different sized drill bits to make a design of your choice.  I opted for a swirly theme but you can do whatever.

Step 7:  Drilling and cutting aluminum tops for hours can drive you nuts, one tiny drill hole at a time.  Invite some friends over. People love watching craziness bud and blossom.

Step 8:  Move on to the big pile of tops.  Do the same exact thing to this pile.  But when you make that cut around the edge, go for a deeper one.  Take off 1.5 cm this time from the edge.

Step 9:  For the rest of the tops, you’ll want to make them into spirals.  This is pretty easy. Assuming that you still have both of your hands at this point, hold a top in one and a pair of scissors in the other.  Cut in a one centimeter spiral all the way in.  What you’ll get is a spiral that looks like a spiral.  Sorry, my thesaurus sucks.


Step 10:  Remember those holes you nailed in?  And remember those capiz shell lamps you were about to buy but didn’t because they never went on sale and you get buyer’s remorse when you buy full price?  Actually, that probably wasn’t you.  That may have been me.  Well, locate those holes and your chains and string the tops together like those capiz shells.  You can mix and match the sizes.  I sure did.

Step 11:  Attach each string of strung tops to the mesh contraption with more chains. Make sure you attach it to the outermost edge.

Step 12:  Working about an inch away from the edge, put up your spirals with long strands of chains.  I forgot, poke a hole at the top of each spiral first.

Step 13:  Then, take your two aluminum can bodies and drill some festive holes in them. Stack them up on top of one another and attach the two.  Then place it around the lightbulb and string that up as well.

And here is my tin can-delier.  Mother Nature already thanked me for this one.


The Key(board) To A Computer Nerd’s Heart

You know that Macklemore song in which he sings about a broken keyboard?  Well, not to sound like a total groupie or anything but yeah, I bought a broken keyboard.  For $7.99 at the Ballard location of Goodwill Seattle.  I don’t mind if you’re slightly oh-so jealous.

I am not a tech savvy person, by any stretch of the imagination.  My fiancé, on the other hand, is in the software industry and does stuff like write code/invent new software patents.  He is like the left brain to my right one.  Together, we form a somewhat complete brain, but missing many many (several) key elements.  He is a good man for putting up with all of my technical ineptitudes throughout the years.  Here are some prime examples:

  • I broke my laptop.  He asked me what I was looking for in a new one e.g. storage space, battery life, image quality.  I told him I wanted something with a big flat surface on top, so that I can close it up and use it as a lunch tray when noon rolls around.
  • I once came up with an idea for an invention.  I called it The Lunch Tray Laptop 2.1 EXL with dual cup holder attachments and silverware portals.  This idea did not make it much further than my brain.  The right one.
  • I used a Nokia flip phone for many years, until my sister told me it was embarrassing to see me navigate a phone with a missing #9 button.  I told her I was keeping my vintage phone for as long as it worked.  She bought me a Nexus.  It then sat in its box for a month until my vintage phone with the “perfectly aged peeling paint” crapped out.
  • I rarely watch T.V.  For the occasional dose of Here Comes Honey Boo Boo, I call up my fiancé to turn it on.  My favorite T.V. show is the one in which I stare at my reflection off of a blank television set, for thirty minute increments at a time.  No reruns.

So what does a technically handicapped person do with a broken keyboard?  Valentine’s Day gift for my computer lover.  My plan was to make a picture frame composed of keyboard letters/numbers.  Here is what I rounded up: alcohol, broken keyboard, E-6000 glue and a flat faced picture frame.  I bought this frame at an Austin Goodwill for $2.99.  It was made by someone named “Newton”.  Let’s just assume his first name is “Isaac”, shall we?  The alcohol is optional.  It makes for some interesting glueing techniques, so keep it handy.

Step 1:  Pour yourself a drink.  Or two.  You may need a nap if you go beyond three.


Step 2:  Pop out the letters of the keyboard and arrange them on the picture frame.  There will be some spacing in between some of the letters, so use this to your advantage. Arrange the spaces artistically.  Then take the E-6000 glue you’ve been sniffing, and glue everything into place.


Step 3:  I left the frame to dry a bit and figured I should come up with some backing to the frame, if I intend to use it to hold pictures.  Keeping in line with the computer theme, I decided to use the cardboard box that my laptop came in.  I just cut it down to the measurement of the frame.


Since I’m usually behind the camera, we don’t have many family portraits.  Or at least cute ones.  By “family”, I mean my fiancé, the dog and myself.  So I drew one.  On lined paper, since I kind of like the lines.


Here we are.  The drawing’s scale is pretty accurate.


I actually snuck in some words and phrases while I was arranging the letters.  This one reads, “I am John” as you can very well read for yourself.


And then the bottom goes, “Software Guy”.  This one requires a few extra IQ points.


And here is the romantic keyboard picture frame for my Valentine.  I plan to present it to him while whispering sweet Java script in his ear.  Maybe some C++ action.  I don’t know. We’ll see what we have time for after I give him his card made out of beans.