Archive for the ‘Uncategorized’ Category

Project #60 – LED Light Jars

Tuesday, March 3rd, 2009

I think one of the low moments of planning for my wedding was sitting next to several tea lights one afternoon with a stopwatch and pouting when I realized that they would never make it through a four hour reception. I then bought enough supplies for a whole wedding of LED lights and never used them (dumb!) except for in some magnetic lanterns I built for an art installation. (side note: Hilariously, I don’t think anyone noticed my lanterns because they were hanging ten feet above everyone’s heads. There was just a little card with my name and the title on it at eye-level and nothing nearby unless you craned your head 90 degrees to the ceiling, which no one did. I should have added a little card that said ‘Look up.’ with an arrow…and maybe a smiley face or something. The lesson: always get your pieces installed at eye level. )

I still have most of the parts sitting around my office along with lots of other electronic components, but I’d like to put them into use for an upcoming movie and board game party.


  • As many Jars as you can find
  • 1-2 LEDs per jar
  • 1 battery per LED (I recommend CR-2032)
  • 1 battery holder per LED
  • 1 switch per jar (optional)
  • Wire
  • Solder (optional)
  • Soldering Iron (optional)

I got most of my parts from ebay, but the batteries came from
These LED lights last for days (I know from another timing experiment), although they’ll dim significantly after the first day and a half. Plus, unlike tea lights you can stack them. You can use saved jars, but I have a matching set I ordered a year ago from American Science and Surplus. All together, building a dozen or so of these things shouldn’t cost more than $15.

First, pop your battery into the holder. Next, solder two pieces of wire with stripped ends, one to each of the wires coming out of your to your LED. Clip the excess LED wires. If you don’t have a soldering iron handy you can twist the wire with the leads from the LED or use electrical tape to hold them together. LEDs are directional so test to see if you have the correct side of the LED matched with the correct terminal on the battery. Solder one side together. DO NOT solder anything directly on the battery; use the leads on the battery holder. If you aren’t using a switch connect the other piece of wire to the remaining battery terminal. However, I recommend using a switch because it’s a pain to switch the batteries in and out whenever you want to turn the light on or off.

If you are using a switch, solder the free piece of wire from your LED to one of the free metal leads, testing to make sure you don’t accidentally connect one side to the ground. Solder one last piece of wire to the corresponding switch lead and then to the remaining lead on the battery holder. The circuit should be complete and your light will turn on and off with a flick of your switch.

Some switches allow for controlling two separate circuits.

Here is a close up look at my soldering, something else I learned in middle school and never improved.

Most of my wiring knowledge comes from an eighth grade project where each student in my class built a little cardboard house and then wired each of the rooms complete with switches that turned on and off. While that was that was the coolest middle school project EVER, my knowledge of electronics pretty much ends there. If anyone has any smarter ideas than the ones I write about I’d love to hear them.

Project #59 – Punctuation Soap

Monday, March 2nd, 2009

I’m not yet cool enough to make my own soap. Instead, I spent the evening melting chunks of soap I bought at a garage sale in the microwave and adding bits of color.

Soap is a lot harder to work with than I’d imagined. I thought I would just be able to cut off chunks and fashion them into whatever I wanted. However, as soon as soap cools off it gets pretty brittle and hard to shape neatly. So, my initial tries at making question marks and exclamation points met with lumpy, broken failure.

I ended up pouring the molten soap onto a cutting board into patterns that I could cut into the shapes I wanted. This was an inexact exercise and I went through nearly a dozen rounds of melting, pouring, and scraping up the remainder to melt again. It was all less easy and fun than I’d imagined, though playing with soap does simplify clean up time.

Arg. The punctuation marks are even backwards when viewed from the front. This is not my best showing. My colored, punctuation-free soaps are pretty, though.

I have a lot to learn about soap making, though I’m not sure if the time investment is worth it for fancy soap. However, I would love to make soap with a prize inside, Deadwood style.

Also, I colored a wooden horse yesterday while updating a project database. I bought the cutout for $1 after hearing some bad family news and wandering around the craft store in a fog. I dunno…horses make me feel better. Does that count as making something? Making a colored horse from a … not colored horse? If not, I definitely need to think of a project where I get to color. It’s therapeutic.

Project #22 – Resistor Barrette

Thursday, January 22nd, 2009

Today we had a trip to see our financial planner, it’s a lot like going to the dentist, but with more numbers and morbid thinking. We didn’t get back to the house until late and as we pulled up to the curb we realized that we’d left my car back the midway point between our two places of work. Boo.

So, no skirt today. My supplies are in my trunk and I’m worn out from discussing how much money I would need to live off of if Clark were to be eaten by a dinosaur. Instead, I made something simple and with short instructions.

I’ve made lots of resistor barrettes before. I’ve sold a few, but I like to horde them for myself. However, like many of my hair accessories, they tend to walk away by themselves, so every once in a while I’ll make a new set. The resistors are regular carbon film, so they are inert. The barrettes are from my two-year-old supply from Metalliferous in Manhattan. I cleaned them out of every barrette they had the last time I visited.

The construction is about as easy as it gets. I snipped off the wire leads to the resistors and glued them in a row onto my barrette. Whee!

I love carbon film resistors because they have their own secret language.

My $100 Wedding Dress

Thursday, August 23rd, 2007

Mr. Lollipop, I probably don’t need to tell you that you should wait to read this one until after the wedding.

I bought my dress almost exactly a year ago today. I wasn’t supposed to buy my dress when I did; I had only been engaged for a month. I was planning on a long, slow fight trying on dozens and dozens of dresses until I drowned in a pool lace and beads and tiny, fabric-covered buttons. We took a trip to the local David’s Bridal store because it was convenient and would be a good place to establish a baseline before moving on to more expensive stores. We wanted to know how I looked in a strapless vs. a v-neck dress, or an A-line vs. ball gown, etc.

I find David’s to be a hit or miss place. The staff can either be personable or grumpy and the dresses can be poorly made with cheap materials or pass for a much more expensive gown. It all depends on the store and the timing. Somehow we managed to get both right.

I went to the store in Robinson Township that day with just my mom and one of my bridesmaids. Through a stroke of luck we managed to hit the $100 dress sale. I tried on my first two gowns and both were not quite right. It turns out that both v-neck and strapless dresses make me look like a space alien.

The third dress was a little different. It was more conservatively and elegantly styled than most of the dresses in the store and was made with higher quality fabric. It was part of one of the store’s premium lines, but it was marked down as a discontinued dress and carried a price tag of only $100. Magically, it fit and was free of stains or flaws. Bingo.

I tried on a few more dresses, but none measured up. I bought my dress off of the rack and took it home that day. My mom paid for it reasoning that she could sell our find on eBay if we ran across something better.

So, I went to other shops and tried on other gowns and looked at every wedding dress picture on the Knot, but I couldn’t find anything I liked that wasn’t grossly over-budget, like this, for example.

It was a relief to be under-budget in one area of the wedding; it meant that we could forward the surplus toward a nicer reception while remaining debt-free.

Once a month I take out the dress and put it on and I’m happy with what I see in the mirror. This month was the last time I would put it on before the wedding, so I took a few pictures.

Somehow I look completely different on camera than I do in a mirror, and unfortunately I noticed that the waistline beading doesn’t exactly hit me in the right place.

Part of the distortion is that I’m not wearing my heels in this picture, but the waistline falls completely differently on the model in the catalog picture. Stupid catalog.

Oh well, it’s too late to do anything now, so I’ll just turn to the side for most of our photos. See? Much better.

I do like the beading, though. One of the figures even looks like a Nagoya Castle dolphin.

The Table Layout

Wednesday, August 22nd, 2007

Weddingbees, I need your help. I put together a table layout yesterday to get an idea of what our reception will look like, but I’m torn about what kind of table cloth to use. We’re currently signed up for a cream colored tablecloth, but it might make the table look washed out. Orange would be too eye-watering, and bright green would hide the ring of circles and wheat grass around the centerpiece, and I spent far too long cutting them out to lose them. Maybe I should go for a celadon green?

The real layout will be a little more complete. Each green circle will have a pot of wheat grass in a white container and there will be bird of paradise in the center of the bowl of oranges in the centerpiece. Also, all of this will be on an actual table rather than the floor.

The place mats will serve as table numbers and will overlap by approximately the same degree at the reception.

We’re going for a kaleidoscope effect and I’m unsure about how to get the colors to pop without giving everyone a headache.

Our Favors Require a Degree in Botany

Tuesday, August 21st, 2007

The best advice I can give to other DIY brides is to test! everything! I am surprised everyday by the varied ways that things can go wrong. Case in point, our favors:

Each guest will get a little pot of wheat grass to take home with them after the reception. Wheat grass is a convenient choice for favors: it grows quickly, the seed is cheap and easy to obtain and it grows in thick, beautiful green blades. Well, it grows in thick blades most of the time.

Above are three failed wheat grass samples. The leftmost has blades that are too skinny and unkempt and their sheaths are too long. I obtained that particular variety of wheat grass from a local sprout farm, Mung Dynasty, which to their credit is fantastic for everything else.

On the left is a variety of spelt wheat grass from whole foods. Clearly, these seeds aremeant more for eating because fever than 25% actually germinated. Lastly, in the middle we have grass sprouted from seed that I’ve had in stock for four years. It’s the best candidate, but a great deal of the seed isn’t sprouting. Three strikes.

So, in my current perfectionist fugue I ordered two more varieties of grass seed from The first was barley grass and the second was a reliable variety of wheat grass. I’m crossing my fingers.

The Backup Cake

Tuesday, August 21st, 2007

Crud. So, my cake baker moved to Maryland and now she isn’t answering my emails. It might just be a momentary blip, but just in case, we have a plan to make the cake ourselves. Luckily, it will be a rice crispy cake and therefore easy to make structurally. I have some experience decorating with icing, so I hope that I can put something together that won’t look like it was made by a drunken marmoset. We are trying to keep it simple with plain white icing and decorations that can be made separately.

I couldn’t find marzipan anywhere that wasn’t already as hard as a rock, and I don’t trust myself with fondant, and so the decorations were made from Fimo clay. The figures were inspired by the penguin habitat in the back of our reception venue. There are 32 penguins total. There are 24 on the first layer, 6 on the second and two slightly larger ones on top.

One of the penguin groupings:

Our top of the cake figures; I plan on gluing a little veil on the shorter one:

Pittsburgh Venue Round Up – Part 1

Monday, August 13th, 2007

We started our search for a venue over a year ago, and it was by far the one wedding decision that required the most leg-work and careful research. We didn’t visit some well known locations like the Priory, Hyeholde or Armstrong Farms, but we did look at a variety of venues running a whole range of prices. Most of the observations below are a year old, so take them with the usual amount of salt.

The Union Project — This venue is the best bargain on the list. It is a community center located in a former Baptist Church on the corner of Stanton and Negley in the Highland Park neighborhood. The rental fees were incredibly reasonable (I think about $100 per hour), and it is one of the few places that gives the option to bring in outside catering, though they do contract with the Quiet Storm. The QS has good food and is one of the cheaper catering companies in the city. However, I have the feeling that it might provide only vegetarian food.

Anyhow, the rental fee includes chairs and the sanctuary is large enough to hold at least 200 people seated at tables if you want to hold the ceremony and reception all in one place.

While I think this venue is a gem for the price, it has undergone renovations and changed management in the last year. Still, check it out if you are looking to save some cash or even cater your own bash yourself.

The National Aviary — We really liked this venue, but it was a little too small for us. Neither the garden tent, nor the atrium can hold more than 150 people. The rental fee includes access to all of the exhibits, which means that some guests might get pooped on by the birds in one of the forest habitats. Still, it is a unique, not-boring venue for brides and grooms looking to spend a moderate amount.

It requires the use of its own in house catering, but this option was cheaper than almost any museum space we could find and the staffing fees were modest.

The Carnegie Science Center — This is a true nerd venue. If you book the science theater as your ceremony venue you will get two free science demonstrations. This means you can say ‘I do’ to artificial lightning or molten metal. Receptions are held in the first floor lobby and guests can play with the exhibits during cocktail hour.

We really liked this venue, but we found the lobby to be a bit bland and hard to personalize. The museum contracts with only one catering service which you will be required to use if you want to serve food. I’ve talked to another bride who had her wedding at the Science Center; she had a food station set up and raved about the quality. However, the food and alcohol costs, plus the extra linen and staffing fees, pushed this venue to be the most expensive that we considered. Despite this, it is worth a look, especially because you’ll get a free copy of the Pennsylvania edition of the Knot magazine from the wedding coordinator when you arrive.

The Center for the Arts — It’s the big yellow mansion on the corner of Shady and Fifth Avenue. It is home to an art museum and is located conveniently next to some of the prettiest parts of Mellon Park. Guests can wander around the art exhibits or party in the patio tent. The tent only holds about 150 people, less with a dance floor, but seating can spill out into the museum proper.

This location had the most rules and the most extra fees. No red wine is allowed and noise can’t go above 81db. You’ll pay an extra security deposit, a fee to shut off the parking meters for guests, and a fee if you want to use any caterer not on the museum’s approved list. Even then, any outside caterer must have liability insurance and be approved by the event coordinator. She can be a little hard to get a hold of, but your best chance to get an email reply is to be very specific when you ask questions. Yes/no questions get the best response rate.

Center for the Arts – Carriage House — This is a smaller, much less expensive venue than the main Center for the Arts building and it has a different coordinator. However, it does have the same access to Mellon Park as its big sister. I don’t recommended it for weddings with more than 100 guests, and the banquet room has a tile drop ceiling that makes the space seem a little claustrophobic. It does have a nice patio for dancing and there don’t seem to be the same fees or extra rules that the main building has.

It doesn’t appear to have its own website, but it is located behind the Center for the Arts. It is staffed by some nice volunteers who are more than happy to give tours and answer questions.

To be continued…

Yay! Boo! Yay!

Thursday, August 9th, 2007

Inspired by Miss Eggplant’s post, I thought I would also post a list of our recent ups and downs.

Yay! All of my bridesmaids have purchased and tailored their gowns.

Boo! Our cake baker just moved to Maryland, though she swears that she’ll still get our cake done. I’m worried because we won’t be there for the trial run of the design.

Yay! We had enough guests decline so that we will be under budget and fit in our venue comfortably (although no surprises with so many guests overseas).

Boo! We will really miss seeing most of the guests who won’t be there.

Yay! Our koi nobori finally arrived! They will be used to decorate the aquarium and the church and they mark our last big wedding purchase.

Boo! Very few people booked a hotel room in our block so we won’t be getting our free suite.

Boo/Yay! I fired my photographer and hired much better ones with stellar customer service. Unfortunately, this new photographer will cost a little more, but I feel like we are on the same wavelength and they are worth every extra penny. Thanks for your advice, wedding bees!

Other than the above mentioned photographer, the wedding planning process has been pretty drama-free. It helps that both of our families have been super supportive; this has made it much easier to handle the occasional misadventure and I am truly grateful.

Hair Pins are my Backup Plan

Wednesday, August 1st, 2007

I have hair that does as it pleases, which is usually to lie as straight and flat as possible. My mother fought valiantly against this during the 1980′s and gave me several disastrous home perms, but my hair always resisted and managed to have itself straightened out less than four days later each time.

I know I am messing with fate by wanting to have my hair curled for my wedding day. I have no doubt that my hair will thwart all sprays and curling irons and be back to itself by the time we eat dinner. So, in light of this I have decided to be flexible and change my hair as the night goes on. Happily, that gives me another opportunity to make pretty things for my hair

I made citrine flower hairpins (please excuse the hair in this photo):

They only took about 20 minutes to make. Each pin is made of six citrine drops, an orange glass bead, a 2.75 inch bobby in and 26 gauge wire. Construction is simple and can easily be improvised. First, I placed the six citrine beads on my length of wire and pulled tight to get the flower shape. Next, I wound the wire above and below the six beads in a weaving pattern to keep them in place. Then, I placed the center bead on the wire and placed it in the middle. This is followed by more winding and weaving around the citrine drops to keep the glass bead in place. Finally, I attached the beads to the bobby pin simply by alternating wrapping the wire around each citrine petal and wrapping it around the pin. Just play around with the wire to find what works for you.

The pins when they aren’t in my hair:

I’ve worn the pins several times and they have held up well to my abuse. I am a regular bun wearer just because it is the one hairstyle guaranteed to keep my hair in place for 12 hours or more.