Tuesday, July 30, 2013

Progress on the Pandaren Wedding Cake Topper: the Bride and Groom Get Dressed

To see how this all started be sure to check out the first two posts on this project at Making a Custom Order World of Warcraft Pandaren Wedding Cake Topper and Work in Progress (Pandaren Pants)

Work on the custom World of Warcraft Pandaren wedding cake topper has been coming along nicely and the Pandaren couple are now getting dressed in their sharp looking tuxedo and pretty white wedding dress.
Now that the groom's pants are complete I've started to add his jacket and belt.  This is the view from the rear.
And this is the view from the front.  As you can see, I've added lots of little details, including the white shirt under the tuxedo jacket, a black bow tie, and silver buttons down the center of the jacket.  I made the belt to resemble the picture that bride sent me as closely as possible.  All of this is done by hand using Premo polymer clay.
Once I completed the main part of the groom's tuxedo I attached the bride to the base, sculpted her feet in the same manner as I did the groom's, and used a thin sheet of white polymer clay to create the skirt of her wedding gown.  As with the groom, the bride has a foil and wire armature with the wire going through her feet and into the base.  All of my pieces are created with durability in mind.  I want my work to be around for years to come!
I used my fingers and a soft paint brush to create the folds I wanted and position the skirt exactly the way I wanted it to lay.  I smoothed the waist of the skirt onto her body in preparation for adding the bodice.  One reason I love Premo polymer clay is that you can roll it out very thin and it still remains strong and flexible.  When I make clothing like this I usually run the clay through my pasta machine on #4 or #5, which makes it very thin and easy to drape.  Of course it also takes a very light touch to avoid stretching or ripping the clay!
And here you can see I've added not only the bodice of the dress, but also sculpted a layer of white clay over the brown to create the Pandaren bride's skin.  I added a purple sash with a little bow at the waist as well.  In the next post you'll see how I add details to the bodice to make it stand out against her white skin.
And here's a slightly different angle.  You can see my laptop with the pictures I'm using in the background.  The bride sent me several good shots of the Pandaren couple, which made it much easier to include all these little details and reproduce the characters in clay.  I've also bent the wire for the arms of the bride and groom.  This next part is going to be a bit complicated because I want the couple to be holding hands.  It may sound easy enough, but it can be difficult to get each arm and hand positioned just right.  So be sure to check back and see if I can do it!
Thanks so much for sharing another creative adventure with me!

~Michelle of CreativeCritters

Tuesday, July 16, 2013

Work in Progress- The World of Warcraft Pandaren Wedding Cake Topper (Pandaren Pants- LOL)

If you've been paying attention you know I got a custom order for a World of Warcraft Pandaren wedding cake topper recently.  I've been having a lot of fun working on this project and things are coming along quite nicely.  You can check out this post to see how I started the armatures for the bride and groom.  Once the armatures were complete I made the base.  I wanted it to resemble a stone floor so I mixed several shades of brown and gray polymer clay together and then used my stone texture plate to create the look I wanted.
I do love those texture plates- they come in mighty handy for things like this!  I just cut a free form shape from the clay, making sure it was large enough to hold the bride and groom, but not too large.  This does have to fit on top of a wedding cake after all.
Then I set the base aside and got back to work adding a base layer of clay to the bride and groom.  I used brown clay for no other reason than the fact that I had an ample supply of it.  This base layer will be covered anyway, so it really didn't matter what color clay I used.
Instead of giving the bride separate legs I just made one solid piece in order to make her more sturdy.  Her dress will completely cover her lower half, so I just wanted to get the shape right and make sure she would attach solidly to the base.  She will have feet, though, which I'll sculpt right onto the base.
Here you can see the groom attached to the base with his feet sculpted and wearing his fancy black and gold spats.  I even made sure to sculpt toenails!
There's a heavy gauge wire that runs through his body, out the bottom of his feet, and into the clay base.  I want to be absolutely certain that this wedding cake topper is going to be a strong, solid piece.  Next I made some Pandaren pants, a first for me- LOL
I think he looks pretty good with his pants on!  I actually use my sewing and pattern making skills to make the patterns for these clothes in clay.  It's the same process really, only you're using thin sheets of polymer clay instead of fabric.  It helps to be skilled in a variety of different crafts.  These things do tend to overlap.  And here's a shot of the groom's back side.  Of course I had to add that cute little tail ;)
In my next Pandaren post the groom will finish getting dressed in his tuxedo.  So far this project has gone quite smoothly and I hope it continues like this.  I have most of it planned out, although sometimes I need to change my plans as I sculpt and come across issues.  I'm still trying to figure out exactly how I want to sculpt their arms.  I'd like them to be holding hands, but that's not as easy as it sounds.  Any time you're working on two sculptures simultaneously things can be a bit complicated.  Their arms will have to be positioned perfectly and I'll have to measure constantly as I'm sculpting.  But I'll cross that bridge (or those arms) when I come to it.  Until then, thanks for joining me on another creative adventure!
~Michelle of CreativeCritters

Monday, July 15, 2013

Natural Squash Bug Killer recipe

Ah, squash bugs- the bane of any gardener who grows any type of squash!  These nasty little suckers attack zucchini, summer squash, winter squash, melons, and other related plants (cucurbits).  The complete life cycle of the squash bug commonly requires six to eight weeks, which is why if you catch them early you can at least reduce their numbers, if not eliminate them completely.  Squash bugs overwinter as adults in plant debris, so it's a good idea to thoroughly clean up your garden in the fall.  We also let our chickens free range in our large fenced garden during the winter and up until planting time in the spring.  Chickens love nice juicy squash bugs!
The adult squash bug (Anasa tristis) measures 1.4 to 1.6 cm in length and is dark grayish brown in color.  Adults can live 75 to 130 days, depending on availability and quality of food.  This is a picture of a pair of mating squash bugs I took recently (before destroying the pair).

 The squash bug causes severe damage to cucurbits because it secretes highly toxic saliva into the plant. They feed primarily on the leaves, but will also attack the fruits sometimes. The foliage wilts, becomes blackened, and dies following feeding; this malady is sometimes called "anasa wilt."  A large number of squash bugs can kill an entire plant, and even if the plant survives the attack, your harvest can be severely reduced. 
Squash bugs typically deposit about 20 eggs per cluster on the underside of leaves.  You can see what the eggs look like above.  I've also seen them lay their eggs along the stem, and I even saw a cluster on the trellis once.  When you spot these egg clusters just smoosh between your finger and thumb (I wear garden gloves), otherwise in about 7 to 9 days you'll have a bunch of nymphs like these ready to ravage your garden.
Your best bet for control is to catch the adults early in the spring before they can start mating and laying eggs.  You can hand pick them and drop them in a pail of soapy water to kill them.  Early morning is the best time for this as they move more slowly at this time.  Check the base of your plants and the underside of the leaves.  The adults can be difficult to kill with insecticide (and I prefer not to use any chemicals in my garden).  The nymphs are much more vulnerable though, and that's where my natural squash bug killer recipe comes in. 

1 jalapeno pepper
1 small onion
6 cloves of garlic
1 Tblsp. liquid dish soap
1 tsp. baking soda
2 tsp. neem oil
1 qt. warm water
You can either finely chop the pepper, onion, and garlic, or use your food processor or blender.  Place these in a quart jar, add baking soda and neem oil, then add the water.  Add the soap last to avoid a sudsy mess (I learned the hard way- LOL).  Put the lid on and shake gently to mix everything together and let sit for 24 to 48 hours.  Strain out the solids (I use a fine mesh coffee filter) and pour the liquid into a handheld sprayer.

I take the sprayer with me every time I go out to the garden, but I only spray when I see the bugs.  I don't want to just douse all the plants because I'll also end up inadvertently killing beneficial insects.  I try not to spray the blossoms or the growing tips either because these are tender parts of the plant and might get damaged by the spray.  I also want to encourage pollinators, so I don't want the smell of the spray on the flowers to drive them away.  I only spray when I have to; even though this is a safe and natural control method, less is usually better.  If I can I'll simply cut off a leaf with all the nymphs on it and feed it to the chickens.  If you're careful the nymphs will stay right on the leaf, and removing the leaf won't harm the plant.

I've had great success using these methods, and although there are still squash bugs in the garden, they're not causing nearly the amount of damage they would  have if I hadn't been so vigilant from the beginning of the season. I hope these tips and the recipe are helpful for you as well.  Another bonus is that if you grow your own garlic, onions, and hot peppers like I do then your cost is fairly minimal.

~Michelle of CreativeCritters

Friday, July 12, 2013

Making a custom order World of Warcraft Pandaren wedding cake topper

So I got my first order for a World of Warcraft Pandaren wedding cake topper last week, and I'm really excited to be working on this project.  Business had been slow for the last few weeks, and while that did allow me to catch up on some things around the house and the yard, it's always nice to have a project or two going on the work table.  And this one is just really cool!  First of all, wedding cake toppers are such special and important keepsakes, second of all Pandaren are just some really awesome WoW characters! Pandaren are large bipedial panda-like humanoids that live in mountainous bamboo laden areas (just like your average panda bear).  Their main homeland is in a portion of Azeroth known as Pandaria.  Personally, I think they're adorable!  I also like that Pandaren get along with any races that don't attack their homeland. In terms of the war between The Alliance and The Horde the Pandaren remain neutral. Yep, Pandaren are certainly critters after my own heart ;)  This is a screen shot of the Pandaren couple I'll be sculpting in polymer clay.
Now I've never sculpted  Pandaren before, but ever since WoW introduced these characters I've been wanting to either sculpt them or create them as plushies.  Before now I really didn't have the time to do it just for fun.
Before I started sculpting I carefully examined all the pictures my customer sent me and planned out exactly how I was going to create this couple.  I drew a rough sketch of the bride and groom and covered it with tape to keep it clean and make sure it lasted through the entire project.  This drawing will help me keep everything in the right proportion and size.  Then I had to make the armatures, using my sketch to measure against.  Since this sculpture will be sitting on top of a wedding cake I not only want it to be strong, but very lightweight as well.  Pandaren have large, thick bodies and if I were to make them from solid clay not only would it be very expensive in terms of the amount of clay needed, but the sculpture would be pretty heavy.  So I created a wire armature covered with foil for their bodies.

By filling the groom's body cavity with tightly packed foil I saved at least a full bar of clay, if not more.  The legs are also very thick so covering them in foil saves clay and gives the groom an even stronger base of support.  I left enough wire sticking out at the bottom so I can insert it into the base.  These wedding cake toppers are meant to last!
The bride's body isn't nearly as big or thick, but I still want to keep things as light as possible, so I built up her torso with foil as well.  After shaping the foil I wrapped it with floral tape and coated it with tacky glue.  This helps smooth the surface and will allow the base layer of clay to adhere easily without any air bubbles.
So that's the basic armature for my Pandaren bride and groom.  I'll continue to post my progress on this fun World of Warcraft wedding cake topper as I go.  This is a truly enjoyable project and I hope the real bride and groom get as much pleasure from it as I do!  To order your own custom wedding cake topper (I can create any characters you like, not just World of Warcraft) just click Made To Order Personalized Unique Wedding Cake Topper.  Here you can read more about my custom cake toppers (I'll do birthdays, anniversaries, or any other type of cake topper you'd like as well) and place your deposit.  If you have questions just send me an email at macreativecritters@gmail.com.
Thanks so much for sharing in another creative adventure!
~Michelle of CreativeCritters

Thursday, July 11, 2013

One Year Ago Today...

One year ago today I did one of the hardest things I've ever done in my life- I separated from my husband of 16 years.  I remember how I felt, the thoughts (about a million of them) racing through my head, the way my heart was pounding with fear as I told him he had to leave.  I had no idea how he would react, and I was scared he might get violent.  Luckily (for me, anyway) I caught him totally off guard and really didn't give him time to think or get angry.  Heck, I even packed his stuff up and loaded it in the truck for him!  But then again, that was pretty much how our marriage went: I did ALL the work while he sat around and complained and made my life miserable.  It had gotten to the point where I just couldn't stand being miserable every day anymore.  Given any choice at all I'm actually a very happy, upbeat, positive person, exactly the opposite of my now ex-husband.  Living with him was so incredibly depressing, it's a wonder I found any reason to smile at all during most of those years.

The life I'm living now is such a huge contrast to those bleak years it's difficult to know how I managed to keep going.  I'd been thinking about divorce for years before I finally made up my mind.  I tried talking to him about our problems, but it was like talking to a wall- he didn't hear a thing I was saying, and he was just so angry all the time I never wanted to push it.  So I kept trying to make it work.  But when there's only one person putting any effort into a relationship it's doomed to fail- it has to be a partnership with both people working together and communicating openly with each other.

I think back to this day last year and still don't know where I found the courage to say the words that needed to be said and do the things that needed to be done.  I was terrified, but I knew I had to appear strong and stay calm (at least outwardly).  Once he was gone I lived in fear that he'd come back and do something to me or the house.  I had a week until my plane left for Arizona, so I knew I just had to make it through that time and I'd be safe (from him anyway- I was also scared of flying across the country!).  And while I was dealing with the separation I was also preparing the house (Gramma's house) for sale and trying to get it completely cleaned out before I left so my uncle, who would be taking care of the place until it sold, wouldn't have to do it himself.  I did more heavy lifting and hauled more garbage out of that place than I care to remember.  I wasn't eating, I wasn't sleeping, I was stressed beyond belief, and I was pushing my body to it's physical, mental, and emotional limits.  It's a wonder I didn't have a nervous breakdown, but I guess I'm made of tougher stuff than I realized, because I did come through it all in one piece, mentally and physically.

 This is the first time I'm talking about some of this.  Maybe I needed a year to be sure I really was OK.  Maybe I needed enough positive new experiences to dull the sharp edges of those painful experiences and make them a little easier to deal with.  I've always felt more comfortable writing about my feelings rather than talking about them, so blogging is sort of a natural outlet for me.  And maybe this will help someone else in a similar situation find their own courage to change their life for the better.  It comes down to something very simple really: I deserve to be happy.  I don't believe I (or anyone else) was put on this Earth to live in misery.

And I've found that happiness, within myself, my surroundings, and the man that I wouldn't have ever met if I hadn't taken that risk and leaped into the unknown.  When Sal asks "How ya doin' today, babe?" I can honestly answer "I'm doing great!"  Sal is completely opposite from my ex, and he's exactly who I need as a partner, friend, and lover.  He's positive, hard working, spiritual, thoughtful, funny, creative, kind, and spontaneous.  Love is a wonderful thing, and I don't know how I managed to live without it for so long.

Just one year, but it feels like an entire lifetime has passed.  I don't wish anything bad on my ex, I'm not a vindictive kind of person- I hope he's able to find some sort of happiness in his own life.  I haven't talked to him (aside from a long email trying to explain exactly why I was divorcing him- I still don't know if he understands) since he left.  I think that's for the best though.  I said everything I needed to say in the email, and he's got it in writing in case he wants to go back and remind himself where things went wrong.
I'm finally comfortable with who I am, and where I am in life.  I am so much more relaxed now, and I guess that shows.  People who knew me before the divorce have commented on how different (in a good way) I seem now.  I'm not afraid to speak my mind or give an opinion, or just simply be myself.  I no longer worry about being judged (he was constantly judging not only me, but everyone else around us).  I am who I am- unique, creative, artsy, and just little bit nuts (but in a good way, I think).  I'm that crazy chic who says "Pardon me" to bees as I'm watering and has conversations with the lizards in the garden.  But you know, that's just me ;)

I know this post was a rather personal one, and there will probably be more like this in the future.  Like I said, I'm much more comfortable with who I am and the things I've been through.  Keeping quiet doesn't fix anything- I did that for way too long.  And if this post and others like it can help someone else, then that's a good thing.  I know I felt so alone for so long.  Maybe if I had read a story similar to mine I might have gotten the courage to change things sooner.


Wednesday, July 10, 2013

Sometimes the old tools work the best

So how many of you have seen one of these before?  If it hadn't been for Gramma, I wouldn't even know this useful device existed.  It's a vintage money counter and Gramma used to use it when she went shopping to keep track of her grocery bill so she stayed within her budget.  I remember going shopping with her as a little girl, and sometimes she'd even let me tally up the dollars and cents, which is a big deal to a 5 year old!  Amazingly this thing still works well and I now use it as a row counter when I'm knitting.  Before I rediscovered this handy tool while sorting through Gramma's things I used to keep track of my rows on a piece of paper, which was a bit of a pain.  This is so much easier!
Right now I working on a blue knit kangaroo like this one for a customer in Australia.
I really enjoy knitting, especially cute critters like this one, and not having to stress about how many rows I've knit makes the process that much more enjoyable.  
I have all sorts of vintage tools in my craft arsenal, many of which were never intended to be used the way I use them now- LOL.  I do find that many of those vintage items work a lot better than some of the tools you purchase today.  Back then, things were built to last!  I think Gramma has had this Handy Counter since the '70s, and she used it all the time, yet it's still in perfect working order.  I have tools I bought a year ago that are already broken.  Sorta makes you wonder what ever happen to quality craftsmanship.  I know when I make an item I make it as durable as possible.  This kangaroo, for example, is knit with a very tight stitch using high quality yarn and is sewn together very securely and stuffed with soft non-bunching fiberfil.  I want my sculptures, stuffed animals, jewelry, and home decor to be around for years to come!
So if you come across a vintage item and are thinking of getting rid of it, give a second look and see if you can't find a use for it ;)
Thanks for stopping by!
~Michelle of CreativeCritters

Monday, July 8, 2013

A year filled with changes

Well this post has been a long time coming (nearly a year, really), but I've been so busy doing new things and having wonderful adventures that I haven't taken the time to sit down and write about all the changes that have gone on in my life the last year or so.  Last July I separated from my husband (we're now legally divorced) after 16 years of an unhappy marriage.  I won't go into detail, but I'm sure many of you know what that's like.  Not only did I leave my husband, but I also left Ohio, where I'd lived all my life.  It was a huge and scary decision, but deep down I knew it was the right one for me.  There was just nothing left for me there.  So I flew out to Arizona and found out that I love the West!  Within a few short weeks AZ felt like home, more so than Ohio ever did.  The people seem friendlier and more laid back, and I was finally able to really be myself without fear of being judged.  I'm different, but out here that's OK ;)
After a few months of being single I even got up the nerve to check out a few online dating sites.  This was actually a big step for me because I hadn't dated since I was a teenager.  I was only 21 when I got married and really never got much experience in the dating world.  I felt a little more comfortable with online dating though because I was more in control.  I got to actually exchange messages with the guys without having to meet them in person unless I chose to.  I talked with some very interesting men and discovered that there really were some good guys out there.  After being with my husband for so long I'd had my doubts.  The third man I exchanged messages with was the first one I decided to actually meet in person.  There was just something about Sal that made me want to get to know him better.
Of course I was scared silly (my first date in like, 20 years!), but I really did want to find that one man who I was meant to be with, and I knew that I couldn't hide forever. For a change I was actually listening to that inner voice and it was saying "You need to meet this man". Sal took me to the square in Prescott and we wandered the art galleries and talked about the artwork and our own creative passions.  Sal's day job is as a structural steel detailer, but in his spare time he creates abstract metal artwork.  He's creative, and has a real eye for detail.  He also loves gardening and has several gardens and a greenhouse on his 4 acre property, so we talked gardening, animals, spirituality, and exercise as well.  Our interests seemed to fall right in line with each other.  I think it was on our second date that I began to fall in love with him.  It was October and the veggies in the garden were in serious need of harvesting, so I helped him pick tomatoes and other vegetables.  This was where I got to really get to know Sal- out in the garden, getting his hands dirty, and being himself.  Since I hadn't been able to have my garden that summer, it was a real treat for me to work with Sal in his garden.  I also got to see him with his dog Ziggi.  When you see a man interacting with his dog you get to see a deeper part of him.  And it was easy to see how much he loved this dog.  Sal is happiness, and calmness, and love.  When I'm with him, whatever we may be doing, I'm happy and relaxed.
Over the course of the next few months we got to know each other better.  And as hard as I tried to deny it to myself, I was falling deeper into love with this incredible man.  I had no interest in pursuing any of the other men who I'd been exchanging messages with, even though family and friends kept telling me I couldn't just settle down with the first guy I dated after leaving my husband.  But Sal and I were meant for each other, and I couldn't deny that fact, not if I was going to be honest with myself.  We fit together so well it was just amazing.  We completed each other thoughts, reached for the same spices when cooking (and I discovered I loved cooking WITH a man, instead of just FOR him), had the same views on gardening, animals, exercise, health, and spirituality, among other things.  Yet there were enough differences to keep things interesting.  Sal's very organized and plans everything out thoroughly.  I'm much more inclined to just fly by the seat of my pants and wing it.  I discovered that I have a real knack for creating recipes without any real planning.  Sal's kitchen is stocked with healthy organic ingredients and I've come up with quite a few excellent recipes inspired by these ingredients.
I always knew that I would enjoy hiking and camping, but never got the opportunity to do that with my ex.  Sal, however, loves to go hiking and camping and lives in the perfect area for it.  My first camping trip with Sal was at the end of October, under the full Harvest moon.  It still gives me chills remembering how the moon looked rising over the mountains.  He took me to one of his favorite spots on the Verde River which is just about a mile hike away from these awesome hot springs (my first time in a hot spring as well).  This trip was truly magical and we bonded even more closely during those few days.
 I also found out that I really like riding on the back of his Harley ;)  Cruising the winding mountain roads as we ride into the sunset is a truly awesome experience.  I'm trying to keep my thoughts organized here, but SO much has happened since I met Sal.  This could end up being a very long post!
In the time I've been with Sal we've checked out Sedona, the art galleries as well as hiking in the mountains, wandered Jerome, gone camping and canoeing at Lake Mary in Flagstaff, discovered some awesome little spots on Beaver creek, and swam in the cave and under the waterfalls at Fossil creek, along with lots of other hikes and adventures.  I'm willing to try just about anything, and I know Sal will be right there by my side making sure I'm safe and having fun.
The cats and I moved in with him at the end of February and things have been just wonderful.  He had been concerned about how Ziggi would react to the cats (he always chases any cats that wander into the yard), but I knew everything would be fine.  I know animals, and I knew that Ziggi was not a vicious dog and the only reason he chased those cats was because they ran from him.  He just needed to see that Calcifer and Ginko were family.  It only took about a month before all three of them were just fine together.  It probably could have happened faster, but Sal actually needed the extra time (whether he knew it or not).  Now we're one big happy family :)
So after many years of unhappiness and merely "surviving", I suddenly have everything I've always wanted in life.  A man who is truly my partner in all things and someone that I share a deep and passionate love with, a home in the country, complete with a big ole country dog, chickens, gardens, and surrounded by gorgeous mountains, and endless opportunity to do anything I choose to in life knowing I'll have the support of the one I love most.  Last year at this time one thought was constantly going through my mind: "All I want is to be happy".  These days the thought "I am so incredibly happy!" goes through my mind on a daily basis.  Sometimes you just have to trust that God knows what he's doing and go with what feels right.  Leaving my husband was probably the hardest decision I ever made, but if I hadn't taken that leap of faith I never would have ended up where I am now.  Change can be scary, but it can also be wonderful.
This is a shot of the full moon over the Verde river taken from the hot springs
 A shot of the red rocks of Sedona, which is a very magical and healing place.  I've heard people talk about the healing energy of Sedona and actually felt it for myself when we were there.  Before we got there I wasn't in a very good mood and my arm was killing me; within a short time of being among those rocks I felt like a whole new person.
Sal and Ziggi on our camping trip at Lake Mary in Flagstaff.  Ziggi loves nothing more than fetching that tennis ball from the water!
This is our favorite spot on Beaver Creek, very private and secluded.  I just love swimming in the creek under the warm sun, surrounded by the mountains!

 This is a shot from inside the cave on Fossil Creek- it's a truly breathtaking place.  This is where Sal took me for my birthday, and I can honestly say it was the best birthday ever!

And this is me and Ziggi taking a rest on the 8 mile (UPHILL!) hike back from Fossil Creek.  We were ALL sore the next day- LOL.  But it was totally worth it!
I took this picture just the other day, and it is so perfect.  I've finally found my pot of gold at the end of the rainbow. :)
For all of you who have made it to the end of this rambling post, I thank you for your patience with me ;)  I hope to be able to post on a more regular basis, as there is quite a bit I would like to share with all my readers, including some of my recipes, what's happening in the garden, critter exploits, and my continuing adventures in my wonderful new life.  I do enjoy writing, and I always like to hear your comments and feedback as well.
~Michelle of CreativeCritters