Saturday, March 30, 2013

Crafts: Zippered Easter Basket

Buona Pasqua! Happy Easter!

I thought Noodlehead's Open Wide Zippered Pouch would make a great Easter gift "basket," especially when paired with this fabric, a vintage zipper, and Kinder chocolate. I love it!

Anna's patterns and tutorials are always a treat, and this one's no exception. The pouch is very quick and easy to make, too! I adhered fusible fleece to the exterior fabric, which made lining up the corner/bottom seams a little difficult, but nothing a seam ripper and extra thread cannot fix.

Note to self: Cut the fusible fleece a half-inch shorter for all edges, not just the bottom.

I still have over a half meter of this springtime fabric, and I'll make more of these zippered "baskets" to gift next year. I now need more fancy, 10-inch zippers...

Thanks so much, Anna!

Friday, March 29, 2013

Crafts: Coastal Cargos

After my success with Blank Slate Patterns' Prepster Pullover I knew I wanted to try another of Melly's patterns. I chose the Coastal Cargos, size 6:

Like most boys, Cole loves cargo pants and shorts. All those pockets for storing treasures...

But I knew I'd be using a rather loud red linen for the pants and that Cole would not roll them up or need a belt at the waist. So there would be no need for bias tape-covered seams, button tabs and belt loops, as called for in the pattern. I love the idea of contrasting bias tape to conceal seams, but I didn't think I could pull it off with this particular fabric.

For the most part, I found the instructions well-written and easy to follow. I had a difficult time with the zippered fly, however. I struggled with it for a couple of hours, and while it was eventually installed, it's narrower than pictured, required a hook and eye instead of a button, and I am all-around unhappy with the result. I'm not in a hurry to try again either. The next pair of pants will have a faux fly.

That being said, I am wild about the pockets and grateful to have learned new techniques. New-to-me box pleat cargo pockets, welt pockets, and front pockets. These turned out very well, too.

The waistband also adds a nice touch. I really like the contrast lining (those Kokka Trefle cars are adorable). Because I didn't add belt loops, I "hid" where I sewed in the elastic by stitching in line with the front pockets' topstitching.

Other than the fly debacle, the pants were fairly easy to put together. This pattern is not a quick sew, but it does make a great-fitting, well-constructed pair of pants. Cole loves them, and for me, there's no higher praise than that.

Tuesday, March 19, 2013

Books: Mediocre

While waiting for Clockwork Princess I read three mediocre-to-me books and started a fourth:

I can think of nothing positive to say about Alyson Noel's Evermore (The Immortals, Book 1). It is Twilight fan fiction gone wrong. Its storyline and characters are poorly constructed and written. Noel's writing is fractured, lacks a coherent narrative, and not a single scene is truly brought to life. The book is strictly amateur, and not in a good way.

Wake (Dream Catcher, Book 1) by Lisa McMann has a good premise and reads well, but Cabel's secret identity, ability to effortlessly manipulate his dreams, and the book's all-too-perfect ending ruined it for me. I wish the author had taken the characters in another direction.

The Hunt by Andrew Fukuda reminds me of Carrie Ryan's The Forest of Hands and Teeth. Both are horror books that would translate well to the silver screen. They're descriptive, fast-paced, and offer a fairly unique take on vampires/zombies and the human race in a post-apocalyptic world. I envision them as B-rated date night fodder, but, to be fair, I'm just not a fan of this genre.

So far Point Blank (Alex Rider, Book 2) by Anthony Horowitz is a lightweight spy/espionage adventure novel. Alex Rider, a 14-year-old MI6 agent, infiltrates an elite boarding school to investigate the mysterious deaths of two students' rich and powerful fathers. It's certainly entertaining, but laughably implausible.

Sunday, March 17, 2013

Crafts: Made Basic Pants

Cole's next article of Mom-made clothing is a pair of basic pants with pockets, courtesy of Made's fabulous tutorials.

Cole is wearing these in my previous post as well.

I used a pair of Cole's best-fitting jeans to draft the pattern. For the fabric, I used a brown cotton linen blend that looks a bit like corduroy from a distance and a fun animal marching band print (not pictured) for the pocket lining. I also used brown/neutral variegated thread for top stitching.

Next time I'll add an extra inch to the width of the leg. These fit him perfectly, but he could do with a little more legroom. Additionally, I plan to add top stitching to the side seams, and maybe a single back pocket.

I really do love these pants, and they were surprisingly easy to make. I see plenty more handmade pants and shorts in this boy's future.

Crafts: Explorer Vest

Cole is having an archaeology-themed birthday party this weekend, so I made the Oliver + S Little Things to Sew Explorer Vest (p. 99) for him to wear.

I used a lovely toffee linen for the exterior, a woodsy print from Ed Emberley's Happy Drawing fabric line for the lining, variegated thread, bright green bias tape, and faux leather buttons. I love the finished look, and Cole seems to approve. Of course, the five fun pockets help.

The book/pattern directions are very well-written, and I had no trouble creating the vest. It certainly took time to make and affix the bellows pockets, but each step of the process was clearly explained and illustrated. Plus, the pattern results in an extremely high quality end product - something to hang onto and later pass down. I now want to try other Oliver + S patterns for boys, and I will.

Friday, March 15, 2013

Travel: Paestum

Ancient Poseidonia has some of the best-preserved Greek temples in Europe. The three temples: Ceres, Hera, and Neptune are magnificent, and the excavation site is positively beautiful. We visited during the off-season, so we had the site and its museum almost all to ourselves.

The Paestum Museum is fantastic, too. (Admission is included in the excavation site entrance fee). It displays the pottery, jewelry, friezes, frescoes, sculpture and military armor - along with some Neolithic artifacts - found on site.

We drove to Paestum, which is far easier and less expensive than local transport. It cost 2.5 Euros each way, and parking at the site was free.

Travel time: 2.5 hours

Time on site: 2.5 hours

Total cost: 40 Euros (transportation, entrance fees, and food)

Travel: Museo Archeologico Nazionale and other disasters

This museum is for those interested in or who've previously visited Pompeii and Herculaneum (Ercolano). It houses mosaics, frescoes, sculpture, a "secret chamber" of ancient erotica, and other choice artifacts removed from both sites. Additionally, the museum boasts wonderful, yet small and unrelated collections of gems and cameos, Greek and Roman sculptures, and ancient Egyptian artifacts.

It is important to note that the museum and its collections are small, security (physical and property) is lax, and entrance fees are grossly inflated for non-EU nationals.

After our museum visit, we trekked to Antica Pizzeria Da Michele for some of its famous margherita pizza. (On our walk we encountered Christmas Alley, which we'll revisit later). The line outside the restaurant was considerable, but we waited only 20 minutes for our number to be called. Five minutes after that we had our meal. But we didn't like it. The crust was soggy and the cheese poured off. The flavor was fine, but the texture and consistency were not. Another disappointment for us.

Thankfully, Napoli Centrale is roughly a half-mile from the restaurant, and an easy walk. Our luck didn't last, however. We missed the bus in Aversa and took a 3.5-mile taxi ride that cost 20 Euros, an outrageous ripoff.

We then drove to Vulcano Buono mall and learned that online shopping is our best option for clothing and shoe purchases. On the plus side, we did buy some new wines and produce to try.

Time at museum: 1.5 hours

Total cost: 65 Euros (entrance fees, transportation, and lunch)

Travel: Herculaneum (Ercolano)

Ercolano is closer to NAS Naples, but, depending on your choice of trains, can take just as long to reach as Pompeii. Be sure to check the route your train takes to Napoli Centrale and only take the Circumvesuviana train headed to Sorrento/Pompei (not all trains from platform 3 do).

Once you arrive at the Ercolano Scavi train station, head downhill for 400 meters. You'll bottom out at the psuedo-entrance to the excavation. From here you get a good aerial view of the site, which, after seeing Pompeii, seems very small. But Ercolano is better preserved than Pompeii; many buildings have second floors, doors, staircases, frescoes and mosaics still intact. As with Pompeii, many areas are being excavated and restored and therefore barred from view, but you still feel - here especially - like you've stepped back in time.

You also witness some of the destruction caused by Vesuvius's eruption: charred stairs, fallen floors, and rippling tile. You see how the ground moved, just like a wave in the sea. Mother Nature is frighteningly powerful, but beautiful too...

We ate a late lunch at the Luna Caprese Pizzeria on our way back to the train station (midway up the hill, on the left). This small and friendly eatery offers a variety of delicious wood-fired pizzas (size small in the US) for 3-4 Euros each. We split two Margherita pizzas, Shawn and I shared a small carafe of house wine, and Cole had milk all for less than 20 US dollars. It was so much nicer than the Pompeii Cafeteria, and we finally had our first authentic Neopolitan pizza!

I want to visit the Donadio Cameo Factory, something we didn't have time for on this trip, so we'll be returning to Ercolano again as well.

Total travel time: 3 hours

Time on excavation site: 2 hours

Cost: 50 Euros (transportation, entrance fees, and lunch)

Travel: Pompeii

Directions for those at NSA Naples: Take the local bus to Aversa train station, and then take the local or express train to Napoli Centrale. Once there, go downstairs to Piazza Garibaldi station, and follow the signs to the Circumvesuviana line. Take the train headed to Sorrento/Pompei on platform 3. Get off at Pompei Scavi Villa dei Misteri and walk to the entrance of the excavation on the right.

Many people were part of guided tours, but we opted for DIY exploration.

The site is quite large, mazelike, and deserves three to four days rather than three to four hours to properly tour. Each cobbled road leads to frescoes, pottery, statues, forums, bath houses, theaters, gardens, temples, mosaics, houses and barracks, gymnasiums, graveyards, fast-food restaurant equivalents (thermopolion), and even a brothel. The amount that has been excavated and restored so far is remarkable, and work continues.

Cole may be an archaeologist in the making. He was fascinated with the ruins, wondered about the purpose of each found article and space, and energetically led our tour. He was particularly interested in the Necropolis and the bodies found under three meters of ash and stone.

For me, the paintings, sculpture, mosaics and architecture were most appealing. Unfortunately, the memory card on my camera was full halfway through the tour, which was most disappointing. But I was able to capture some of what we saw. I'll have to photograph the rest on our next visit.

Total travel time: 3.5 hours

Time on excavation site: 4 hours

Cost: 60 Euros (transportation, entrance fees, and lunch at the Pompeii Cafeteria)

Monday, March 11, 2013

Crafts: Blank Slate

I've always wanted to try my hand at making Cole's clothes, but in the states I never had trouble finding something I like on sale at abercrombie, The Children's Place, Gap, or wherever. Overseas, we're limited to what's on sale at the base exchange, and, frankly, that's nothing to get excited about. So now's the time to try.

My first attempt is Blank Slate Patterns' Prepster Pullover, size 6:

Despite my trouble with the collar, the Prepster Pullover is a wonderful pattern. The directions and photos provided are so very helpful (read: I never would have put on the collar without them), and they all but guarantee a polished and professional end product. Add some soft seersucker, and it's a comfortable one too.

Cole loves his shirt! I have plans to make additional shirts in the next two sizes soon, along with a few other Blank Slate patterns (to include the Surf Collection available until 24 March at Pattern Anthology).

Books: C. Clare Readathon

I did finish Wildwood, which I thought was a Chronicles of Narnia and Rumplestiltskin mash-up. The writing, level of description, characters, etc. were good, but the story was not terribly original. I won't read its sequel, or any other follow-on titles.

Once I worked my way through the Impassable Wilderness, I read Cassandra Clare's Clockwork Prince. I didn't love it as well as Clockwork Angel, but I still loved it and cannot wait for Clockwork Princess to come out on the 19th. Seriously, I cannot wait.

I'm so impatient that I stopped waiting for City of Bones to be returned to the library, bought it, and read all five books in The Mortal Instruments Series within a matter of days. I should have read more slowly, but I couldn't help it. I always want to know what happens next.

That being said, I do prefer The Infernal Devices Series to The Mortal Instruments. The time, setting, and characters of the former are far more appealing to me, but I am invested in both series. And they do tie together as prequel/sequels are meant to do.

I then read Beautiful Creatures (Caster Chronicles, Book 1) by Kami Garcia and Margaret Stohl. This is an original story, and while the authors did an excellent job developing the plot, the pacing of the story is off. I thought it needed another round of editing, and maybe 100 fewer pages. I also think Beautiful Creatures should have been a standalone book. I can't muster enough interest to find out what happens during Lena's seventeenth, eighteenth, or any other moon. To me, Lena claimed herself on her sixteenth moon and the story's over.

Beautiful Creatures and City of Bones may not be my favorite books, but I do want to see how Hollywood chose to bring these novels to life. Someday.

I'm going back to the library today for more books.