A New Orleans Love Note

By 6:45 Sunday morning, both my bronchitis and my antibiotic decided I was done sleeping.  Looking out the hotel window, I see there is already a line forming at Mother’s.  It’s grey and sun is just starting to show off through the clouds towards the river.  Might as well go out and see the Quarter in a way I don’t normally see it.  Sleepy, foggy, non-Carnival time. 

Even at this time of year and even in the CBD, the wet streets smell faintly of spilled beer and broken bits of Mardi Gras beads hide in plain sight at the edges of the sidewalks. Those up are quietly going about their business of finding breakfast, making breakfast, or setting up their day.  Street entertainers are preparing their instruments and getting their tarot cards out.  Artists in Jackson Square are hanging their paintings. Passing one of the many coffee and beignet locations, a piano plays the question of whether I know what it means to miss New Orleans.  Yes.  Yes I do.
The French Market is just beginning to stir when I get there.  Vendors setting up their areas, ice thrown on the sodas, the crepe grill warming up.  In the flea market section I have to maneuver quickly around dollies full of heavy bins carrying cheaply made wares of no particular importance.  Most aren’t ready to greet the tourists who will wander through later to pick up Voodoo dolls made in China or ignore the signs asking to please not pick up the dried alligator heads, but one book seller has a nice box of old Mardi Gras doubloons to root though.  A weakness of mine, I pick out 20 that either correspond to mine or my sister’s birth year, or are sentimental favorites like Pete Fountain’s Half Fast Walking Krewe.   
  
After the market I wander aimlessly, slowly, up and down the streets that cross Bourbon, never able to remember the correct order of them all.  St. Ann, Dumaine, St. Peter, Toulouse…  Looking in gallery windows on Royal, stopping to try hot sauce and pralines on Decatur.  In the Royal street police station I stop in to check their NOPD vending machine and see what t-shirts they have this year.  I overhear a family of out of towners wanting something done about an aggressive panhandler.  They weren’t out and about yet on my way to the market but I see them everywhere now; beards and backpacks and dogs at their sides, in groups as numerous as the street musicians.  And why not?  If I had to be (or chose to be) a wandering vagrant, why NOT a city like New Orleans?  
Making my way back to Canal Street felt a bit like failure.  Not even noon and I was going to head back to the hotel?  But the sun had come out and I was definitely overdressed for the heat.  Maybe after a shower and lighter clothes I’d come up with an afternoon plan before my actual conference work began in the evening.  Maybe ride the streetcar down St. Charles. Then the serendipity of New Orleans happened, as it only does there.  Opening up the iPad to facebook a picture of doubloons for my sister, I see a message.  One of my Mardi Gras family just so happens to be visiting her boyfriend this weekend who lives in the Quarter.  He is having a crawfish boil and would I like to come over?  I love you New Orleans.
  
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Freddie’s New Shoes



That’s right kids, Freddie the Mercury has his new GD-expensive whitewall tires!  Considering the other ones were probably 60 years old, I guess it was about time. That meant it was time for HIGHWAY DRIVING!  There he is, flaunting his awesomeness at the mall.  He did @70 miles of high-speed driving Saturday and I must admit, the ride was smoother than in The Mighty Geo.  

That makes the next important thing (as far as I’m concerned) the window seals that leak like crazy, even the new seals.  One piece at a time.  



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Jewelry Tutorial: Bottle Cap Bubble Earrings

I don’t think you really need a tutorial to make bottle cap earrings and I’ve never even been interested in making them, but I just cut a case of Cheerwine bottles into glasses and every bottle came with it’s perfect little cap and I felt bad throwing them all out.  So this tutorial is like troubleshooting more than anything.



You see the regular cap earrings all the time but if you want something a little different, you need to get a dapping (sometimes called doming) block.  I think with a coupon I got mine at Harbor Freight for about $30.  Normally the set is @$50.  I have one because I like doming coins for pendants.  So, dapping block set with the two largest punches, a hammer, some bottle caps and a sharp nail.  If you have a hammer like mine, I used the plastic side, not the brass.  Seems to work better here.





Troubleshooting: some tutorials say to place the caps on a hot plate or candle warmer for a few minutes so you can peel off the rubber backing inside.  I can’t for the life of me tell you why that matters.  Not only does it not matter, but it was a real time consuming pain in the ass.  Don’t bother.  Also – don’t hammer the nail hole until AFTER you’ve domed your caps.  I tried it before and the cap crumpled and closed over the hole.  They were ugly and unuseable.



I used the three largest dome sizes, starting with the largest (duh).  I suggest 10 easy whacks with the hammer and largest punch to get a dome started so you don’t crumple it weird, then wail on it 7-10 more times.



Move onto the next smallest dome and whack 10 more times.  Or more if you’re feeling aggresssive.  Then I go onto the next smallest and use the #23 punch – 10 more whacks or until I’m satisfied.



You are going to want your nail hole going from inside to outside so you don’t smush your pretty cap.  The trick is trying to keep it in one place and not slide around so you get the hole in the general range of the top of the cap.  Good luck with that, I don’t yet have a good tip.



Yes, I know, it looks like I am hammering right into my floor.  Get a piece of wood – be better than me.  Without much difficulty you’ll get a hole you can then put a headpin or big jump ring through for earrings, pendant, keychain, what have you.  Enjoy your upcycling.

P.S. If you are thinking “hey, that looks cool but I’m not going to buy a dapping block set”, never fear.  I put them in the etsy store: StrangeLittleGirl

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Intermission: Ukulele Break

I have found that those ukulele tab sites are not always totally accurate with respect to my favorite songs.  I’m not clever enough yet to figure these out with respect to chords, but I’m happy to just figure out how to finger pick some of it…my apologies to The Beatles.

I wanted to share a quick video here of the chorus that I’ve figured out, but turns out WordPress doesn’t let me post videos unless I have a premium membership.  Huh.  Ain’t nothing premium about me so if you really care, here it is via YouTube I hope:  http://youtu.be/ihDt_Ajnv30

Now, I really need to get back to marketing my etsy store (Need some jewelry for Easter?  Sure you do.) because I just bought a POCKET ukulele (17″ instead of 21″) off eBay and I’m starting to want even MORE.  And a banjo ukulele.  And a kalimba.  Somebody stop me.

P.S.  The video also lets you hear what a Makala Pineapple uke sounds like with the strings that came on it.  Any review (written or video) that I can find states right away that the first thing the buyer did was change out the strings.  That kind of pisses me off because I think it sounds great as-is, and reviewers should be reviewing something unaltered.  When I play along with my online lessons, I think my pineapple with orginal strings sounds fuller and richer than the instructor’s ukes.  End rant!

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Ukulele Bag: Not quite a tutorial. But sort of.

Let me be clear – I’m not a good tutorial writer. Halfway through a project I think maybe I should have taken pictures to blog about it, and other times I think the project isn’t interesting enough to talk about anyway. Then again, it seems anything is fair game for online tutorials. And for the dumbest things – like how to hard boil eggs. I know because I have personally looked this up. Seems my husband and I disagree on the proper way to boil eggs and when I boil them, he feels they become impossible to peel. Yes, he has issues.

In fact, as bad a tutorial writer as I am, my top two posts on this blog happen to be how-tos: bottle cutting and Borax crystal ornaments. Apparently, people really want broken glass all over their kitchen and to do chemistry experiments with their laundry detergent. You’re a bunch of weirdos.

But I digress. Ukulele bag. I’m one happy month into ukulele ownership and in all that time, it’s been kept in a pillowcase when I’m not practicing. I’ve been looking for a sturdier bag to put it in but the “gig bags” out there for pineapple ukes kind of suck. Ugly, flimsy, some costing as much as three times the amount of the uke. I’m clumsy, so I want it in something that has at least a tiny bit of protection when I knock it off the coffee table. I looked at a bunch of online tutorials and I didn’t quite feel I had the skill – and no sewing machine. I had to come up with something simple but effective.

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Enter the sweatpants bag.

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Yup. I took a pair of my sweatpants and chopped them in half so I had two longish tubes. Turned one tube inside out and stuffed it in the other tube. That gives me smooth material against the uke so no fuzz gets caught in the pegs or strings. Sewed first the elastic (ankle) end of the inside tube closed, being sure to put a few stitches on each side to connect it to the outer tube, then sewed the outer tube shut. Sure, you could sew them both together but I did all this with hand stitching so it was easier for me this way.

So I have a basic two layer sleeve of fleece/cotton, wider at the bottom, that I can slide the uke into. It’s not a hard padded case or anything but for my purposes it will do just fine. Next, I shortened the inside tube but left it long enough that I could fold it over the bottom of the uke. Then the outer tube I kind of shaped and folded up over the outer front. Honestly, I kind of feel like I’m diapering it. I had planned to put some elastic loops on the end and two buttons on the outside, about midway up the case. Then I realized I had remnants of a cool silk shirt I had been cutting up for another project. It had sleeves that roll up and a strip of silk buttoned to keep them in place. Those are the two purple strips you see there, using the shirt buttons. I also took the hemmed collar off and sewed it at the top of the case, to make the elastic end look prettier. Then, the pocket for my tuner.

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The little purple pouch with two zipper compartments has been kicking around a long time. I once sewed it into a coat when I went to Paris because I’m a paranoid traveller and wanted a secure inside pocket. Then it was in a light up suit for several Mardi Gras trips, holding money and extra batteries. Just a few stitches on each corner secure it well enough and my Snark tuner fits right in. Last, I wanted a strap.

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This is the only part of the project I actually had to pay for. A whole $2.99 at Goodwill for a duffle bag with the perfect strap and D-rings. The zipper on the cheapo bag was broke so I didn’t even have to feel bad about throwing out the bag. I was just going to stitch the D-rings directly to the bag, when my husband asked if I had any of the purple material left. I did. I folded and refolded two strips for strength and put one around each ring, sewing the silk to the bag instead. Looks much better. That man might have issues with hard boiled eggs, but sometimes he comes up with a good idea.

This might be too hippy dippy for you. You might want something that looks more professional. Then again, you are playing a ukulele. Lighten up.

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Handmade Takes Time but This is Ridiculous

I’m about to go on a rant so quietly make your way out of the room if you aren’t in the mood for it.

back away

I made the most insanely dumb purchase back in October 2013 at the Carolina Renaissance Festival. I wanted a pair of those awesome-looking leather boots.  Nothing fancy, not real tall, but a sweet burgundy color with copper buttons on the side. When I didn’t pass out at the price quote from Catskill Mountain Moccasins I learned they were made to order and I had to get my feet molded for the perfect fit.  Disappointed that I couldn’t just pick up a pair in my size already made but okay.  It was stupid hot and my friends wanted to go home, but I justified that I was worth a pair of these boots and my friends wouldn’t die by waiting 45 minutes for this whole fitting process to take place.  I wish my friends had been a little bitchier.

You've got to be fucking kidding me.

You’ve got to be fucking kidding me.

AFTER I stood still for eternity getting my feet measured and molded in tape, and AFTER the credit card had been run, and AFTER the paperwork was completed, the seller put an estimated completion date on my invoice of November.  That’s cool.  No – NOVEMBER 2014.  Sonofabitch.

WHY WOULD YOU NOT EXPLAIN THIS UP FRONT WITH THE CUSTOMER WHO THINKS THESE WILL BE A NICE CHRISTMAS PRESENT TO THEMSELVES?  Oh, because most customers would probably then say “forget it – I don’t need them that bad”. That’s my guess anyway.  We’re not all leather crafters – we have no idea how many woodland elves you have working from their wee forest cottages on these orders so we don’t assume a 14 month waiting period is normal.  I left the festival pissed and feeling like I’d just been robbed instead of excited for my someday awesome new boots.

I tried to put them out of my mind for the next year or so, although the whole thing would rear it’s ugly little handcrafted head every time I could have really used that money for something more important.  It’s like the boots are always running  through my brain now stomping out “You’re so stupid! You’re so stupid!”  They’ve effectively killed my urge to possess more leather boots of any type, that’s for damn sure.

dumbass

So, November 2014 FINALLY rolls around and I’ve not heard anything so I sent a polite e-mail to the artisan to say hello and to reconfirm that they have my correct mailing address.  Yes, I was fishing for any kind of update.  I find out that apparently the person making my boots was in the hospital for a month and orders have been delayed.

skeptical house

If I didn’t feel robbed before I sure do now because it’s freakin’ February 2015 and I’m still waiting.  The wording on their invoice leads me to believe that even if they haven’t started making the boots, they won’t cancel my order and return my money since they did the work to do my foot moldings.  Which is bullshit but buyer beware.

I find it a bit ethically questionable to not be up front about the waiting period but also to take in so many orders that it creates such a backlog in the first place.  I was hoping by now to be able to give a review of these babies and dreamed that these would be my ultimate boots to end all boots.  But I’ve got nothing.  Has anyone ever ordered and actually RECEIVED boots from this company?

P.S. – I’d be a bigger jackrod than I already am if I didn’t at least put out one more feeler for my boots since I’m publicly bitching about this to everyone else.  So I politely emailed the artisan yesterday and just got this response:   “I am able to be in the shop a bit and I have yours patterned and will be cutting the leather this weekend.   I am so sorry for the delays and I will try and have them completed very soon…. ”   *sigh*

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The Ukulele Report

@Three weeks ago I was waylaid by whimsy and purchased a Groupon for ukulele lessons at the Center Stage Ukulele Academy (online).  I’d been thinking about learning something like ukulele or mandolin for a while now, but you know how those things just go on that mental list of “wouldn’t it be nice to know how to… (play a ukulele, pick locks, drive a standard car, speak fluent Turkish, etc.)” and you never really make an effort to DO those things.  You just sigh and say you wish you knew how.  Well, a $10 Groupon and peer pressure gave me that push.

So here’s what I’ve been up to since then…

My new uke!

My new uke!

Thanks to the instant gratification of a music store close enough to walk to, I found a beautiful pineapple uke (Makala MK-P Soprano).  It was the only one of that kind there, as the rest just looked like mini guitars and I was so not into them.  Never had the slightest desire to play a guitar, don’t want to play something that looks like one.  Downloaded a tuner app which works well, although I’ve also gotten a Snark tuner since then which is more foolproof then listening to the app tone.

I try to find time to play a little everyday.  I’ve completed @30% of the lessons which is awesome but really too fast.  I need to backtrack and master some of the trickier lessons because I tried to do too many the other day and got really frustrated.  NOT GOOD.  I love playing and don’t want to be forcing myself to practice.  But I do really like the Center Stage site and the lessons so far – I have access to them for a year although of course there are plenty of free tutorials around the Interwebz.

Never having played a stringed instrument of any kind, it’s weird to have to tune something all the time and my fingertips are killing me!  My friends send me YouTube links of people playing so effortlessly, but I can’t imagine ever being able to play without looking at my fingers or singing while playing.  Strumming patterns totally confuse me for some reason, and I just end up strumming how I like it.  I think I need a strap instead of trying to keep the poor thing in a right arm headlock.  Playing a B chord of any kind correctly seems more unlikely than sighting a unicorn, and I’ve been driving my husband crazy playing (badly) the intro of Stairway to Heaven.  That’s my jam, yo.

Reviews of most ukuleles insist you have to immediately change out the strings for better quality, but I don’t have any issues with the sound of mine.  I guess I don’t know any different.  I’ve noticed my pineapple sounds a little different than the ones the online instructors use.  Deeper maybe, less twangy.  Definitely better.  I don’t need to fool with the strings for now (or rather, pay someone else to fool with the strings).

Don’t tell my ukulele, but I played a Kala banjolele (banjo ukulele) at the music store last week and I’ve been thinking about it ever since…

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