All The News That's Fit To "Print"

It's no secret that news sources in the United States are woefully inadequate - at least for those who care about actual news. It's partisan (if speaking about national politics), nationalistic (if speaking about news in general),  and shallow (if speaking about anything else).

Recently, Jane Harman, former US Representative from California, was on MSNBC discussing a task force recommending that the NSA stop collecting phone records. Important stuff, right? Everyone in this country should be concerned about privacy in light of recent revelations regarding our government's blatant misuse of power. Literally, while in mid-sentence, Ms Harman was interrupted by the interviewer (Andrea Mitchell) for "breaking news". To stop a Congresswoman in mid-sentence, speaking on such an important topic, one would think that war had broken out or the President had been shot. No...

The "breaking news" was that Justin Bieber was appearing before a judge for his recent arrest. Not that he was arrested - that was old news at this point. But that he was appearing before a judge

We should be horribly ashamed. How can we expect the rest of the world to take us seriously when a teenaged celebrity is more important news than the NSA and their collection of citizens' phone records? Or more important than the words of a former Congresswoman?

It's embarrassing.

September 11, 2001 was when I stopped watching news produced in the United States. When the Twin Towers fell, I was on foreign soil, watching from thousands of miles away. I had the choice of three news outlets: CNN International (which was, essentially, just playing CNN Domestic's feed), BBC International, and local Dutch television. I started watching CNN and occasionally flipped to BBC, since that was also in English. Within an hour, I had completely stopped watching CNN whose coverage had devolved to nothing but a series of weeping people intercut with replays (endless replays) of the planes hitting the towers and people falling/jumping from heights too far to survive. It was an exercise in pain and self-pity. It was hopeless and helpless. Within an hour, the BBC had a panel of world leaders discussing the attacks - what they meant, if they were an indicator of something worse. The BBC began exploring how we could prepare in case there were more attacks and the political implications of the US response. 

This was the news I needed.

No one would argue that I'm a pragmatist. I'm not terribly emotional and my response to tragedy is usually to look for ways to fix/understand what happened. So, the BBC delivered the kind of news that appeals to me. All the wailing and gnashing of teeth doesn't do anything but allow us to wallow in pain. Now... I've been taken to task for having this opinion and am willing to admit that many people NEED to grieve in this way. However, I'm still going to argue that our grief doesn't need to be played out on our national news.

So, I don't watch or read US produced news anymore. I get most of my news from, which does a nice job of covering the world's big stories. And, lately, I've found myself reading more from Al Jazeera America which promises "fact-based, in-depth news". 

At the end of the day, getting real news that's not adulterated by the personalities of the people who own or run the outlet or by the advertisers who pay their bills is getting tougher and tougher. And, frankly, I think that the US news outlets have fallen prey to these influences faster and farther than any other. If I never hear another story about Bieber, it'll be too soon.

- Alex

It's a Whole New Us!

Hi folks!

Have you noticed our new look? I'm pretty excited about it! It was time for something new.

When we started this blog a few years ago, our intentions were really vague. So, without the constraint of rules, we spent some time finding ourselves. We've experimented with graphics, formats, layouts, content, etc. After all this time, I think we've suddenly found our groove. Of course there are more changes to come, but we like this start.

Alex and I really enjoy writing (knitting/quilting/sewing) patterns. And from our download stats, many of you enjoy using them! We've decided that this is an area where we are going to devote the bulk of our time (don't worry...we're  still distractible). So keep watching...there is more to come!

For now, visit the tabs above to access our current selection of patterns (all free!). They are organized by craft type so it's easy to find what interests you. We also have a presence on both Ravelry and Craftsy if you would like to download our patterns from there.

Speaking of new patterns, we will have two yummy knitting patterns featured in the upcoming book DeFarge Knits Shakespeare. We will let you know when the book release date is set.


PS - I forgot to mention that our Log Cabin Quilt Block was named one of the top 6 most popular designs featured on FaveQuilts last year! Check out the story here.

Fancy Nails (Vintage MD)

Work as been sort of all-consuming lately so I haven't done anything crafty or interesting in ages. I made a meatloaf the other day but that's a pretty boring recipe. I'm still knitting the scarf I posted about a couple of weeks ago. Gardening hasn't started yet and I'm pretty sure my bees didn't make it through winter. It's the winter doldrums for me!

So, to save you all from some really boring story, I thought I'd repost something fairly interesting. Step-by-step instructions on how to make your nails fancy without having to paint them! As I mentioned recently, I've been sort of uber-girly lately so this post is very timely. 

Hope you enjoy!

- Alex

ORIGINALLY POSTED: Wednesday, April 10, 2013

Fancy Nails

I like being slighty fancy. I'm not a big make-up wearer but I always do my eyes and put on blush. Sometimes, especially if I'm going out at night, I'll wear some lipgloss. I love having fancy hair but I don't usually curl it (mostly becuase I'm not willing to spend the time on it) so I have to rely on good haircuts and my mad blow-drying skillz. And, really, is there anything better in the world than a good pedicure??

The one thing I never, ever, ever do is get manicures and/or paint my nails. There are three reasons for this:

1. I've never really liked the way my weirdly shaped fingers looked topped off with color.
2. I love having short nails and thought it looked odd to have them painted when they were so short.
3. I have ZERO patience for waiting for my nails to dry.

Let's be realistic. I use my hands A LOT. I knit, I sew, I read, I clean my house, I talk with my hands (incessantly).  I simply cannot be forced to sit around for extended periods with my hands inert just so that they have some color on them.

*This is the part where the clouds part, the sun shines through, and the angels start singing...*

Enter Sally Hansen Salon Effects Real Nail Polish Strips.

I don't know what kind of alchemy makes this happen but this is real nail polish that you peel off a backing, stick to your nails, and then go. It goes on dry and stays on for about two weeks. Best of all, if you want to be extra-fancy, the strips come in "designs" that make it look like you spent hours in a chair at a nail spa.

(Between us, some of the designs are a little... um... well... maybe "young" is the right word. But a lot of them are more understated and relatively appropriate for work.)

So, here in pictures, is my last application of Salon Effects and a few photos of the various designs I've tried so far.

What you get in the box: 2 sets of 8 strips of various widths; an emory board with three levels of coarseness; a wood cuticle stick.

Note that, if you open the package of strips, you have to use them within an hour or so or they start to "harden" and become unusable. They are, actually, nail polish.

Also note that, because my nails are so short, I use one strip for two nails - thus, I get two applications from each box!

(Sorry for the bad photo)
These are what the strips look like.

The first thing to do is to prep your nails. Clean them with nail polish remover to get rid of any oils or dirt, buff them with the emory board, and push back your cuticles.

Next, peel the clear cover from the front of the strip and then peel the strip off the backing. You'll be left with a little rectangular tab that you can use to handle the strip while placing it on your nail.

Place the strip on your nail by centering it and putting it as close to the cuticle as possible (even a little under it if you can). This is why prepping your cuticles is an important step. The Sally Hansen brand has a light adhesive so it's easy to pull up and reposition if you don't like how it landed on your nail the first time. However, once you press it down hard on the nail, it's pretty much in place.

Push the strip down, tucking it around the edges of the nail, against the cuticle. Using a pair of nail scissors (or other small snips) cut the excess strip from the end of the nail. I reserve this piece to do another nail. If your nails are longer, you probably won't be able to do this.

Wrap the excess over the tip of the nail then take the roughest part of the emory board and file off the excess strip.

Angle the file under the nail so as not to damage the polish at the tip.

I then use the flat part of the cuticle stick to press the edges of the polish strip to ensure that they're well adhered to my nail.

E voila!  Fun, "polished" nails with ZERO DRY TIME!

I believe that these 'cure' a bit over the course of an hour or so. I have noticed that I can pick at them easier right after I've done them but the longer they're on, the harder the polish seems to get.

Also, even though the box says you can remove these with regular polish, it takes an annoying amount of polish (and time) to make that happen. After my first application, I went to the beauty supply store and bought a bottle of pure acetone (the active ingredient in nail polish remover). Now they come off in a couple of swipes. :)

And now, for your viewing pleasure, here are some of my favorite nails since discovering Sally Hansen Salon Effects:

This next one isn't Sally Hansen - it's a brand called Essie. While I loved the pattern (lace with a pink pearlescent undercoat), I found the strip too thick and difficult to use. The fit wasn't as clean as with the Sally Hansen brand and, because the design was raised, I found myself wanting to pick at it constantly.

I highly recommend trying polish strips if you want a quick, easy way to fancy your nails. The whole process takes me about 40 minutes. I pick a one-hour show on the DVR and by the time the show is over, my nails are done and, more importantly, dry.  Let me know if you try these and what you think!

- Alex

Spaghetti Bread!

Have you heard about spaghetti bread? OMG, it's some of the best comfort food ever!

This is what you need:

Pizza dough
8oz of spaghetti cooked and sauced just the way you like it (make it saucier than usual)
8oz shredded mozzarella cheese
Parmesan cheese
1/2 stick of melted butter with 3 large bulbs of fresh garlic pressed into it

Let's get started:

Cook up your spaghetti and set it aside.

Roll out your pizza dough in a rectangular shape. Roughly 18" x 22". Transfer it on to a greased cookie sheet (It will hang over the edges.)

Spoon your spaghetti noodles in a line in the middle of the dough. Top with shredded mozzarella, Parmesan cheese, and a small drizzle of the garlic butter mixture. Leave at least 4" clear on all sides of spaghetti mound.

With knife or kitchen scissors, cut slits (as shown below) down the long end of the dough roughly every 2-1/2" to 3".

Pull the strips up (stretching them a bit) one at a time from either side to create a braid pattern.

Brush on the remaining garlic butter mixture on the outside.

Bake in a 350 degree oven for 30-35 minutes (or until golden brown).

Now this recipe is not an exact science. You only have elbow pasta on hand...why not? There is one random Italian sausage in the fridge...cut it up and throw it in. I use whatever I have handy. You get the idea.


10 Things to Never Say at Work

Today I read this article, posted on the CEB Marketing Leadership website. According to their "About Us", "CEB (Corporate Executive Board) is the leading member-based advisory company. [Their] practices span the core functions found in large corporate, midsized, government, and financial services organizations worldwide."

I know, I know... super-boring corporate stuff, right? But I'm a super-boring corporate drone, so these are the kind of websites I read for work.

You're probably wondering why I would share my boring work stuff here but, honestly, I read this and all I could think was, "Every person who has a job needs to read this article!". The thing they don't say, that I think sums everything up, is that it's important to stay positive and flexible in order to avoid projecting a poor attitude.

So, for all you workers out there, here's my tip of the day (courtesy of CEB). 

10 Things to Never Say at Work

Things can get tough at work. But lots of times, people – myself included, sometimes! – get bogged down to the point of negativity and non-constructiveness. In other words, we complain about challenges instead of doing what we can to meet them. Everyone does it sometimes, but it’s important to avoid consistently giving the impression that you’re not willing to do what it takes to get the job done. In that spirit, here are ten things to avoid saying at work:

1) “That’s not my job.”

The Great Recession, and the reduction in headcount that came with it, has put workers in a tough spot: they’re increasingly asked to do things that were not a part of their original job description and that conflict significantly with their core duties, necessitating longer hours to compensate. We’re “doing more with less!”

The next request you get from your boss very well might not be your job, but a more proactive approach is to treat time and expertise as a constraint, and manage against them. “Well, I have project X and Y due next week, and I’m not sure how to use Database Z, should I push those projects back, and who should I link up with to discuss the database?”

2) “I’m too busy.”

Again, with headcount dropping, it can often feel like we’re completing and managing a dozen tasks at once, all with near-in deadlines. And, inevitably, the time will come when you’re asked to do a task that’s simply a bridge too far – the straw that broke the camel’s back, so to speak.

This is a difficult situation to be in, and in difficult times it’s easy to let emotions take over and brusquely respond that you’re simply too busy to take on the task. But the better way is to be proactive, let people know what kind of deadlines you’re looking at, and ask what, if anything, should be sacrificed to take on the new task.

3) “I don’t know.”

As tasks get more complex, there will almost certainly be the occasional gap between what you know and what you need to know.

The key thing to do here is to get specific and figure out a strategy for meeting those gaps. “I’m happy to help, but I’m not sure exactly what the project plan is for this campaign, who should I talk with to learn more?”

4) “This is how we’ve always done it.”

Simply put: for many companies, there is no better time than now to begin re-thinking the “way you’ve always done it.” Many corporate business models are under fundamental attack from startups able to compete at scale through the web, and the gradually-improving economy means there will be lots of chances for growth – and process changes that make growth possible – in the near future.

That said, there needs to be a good reason to overturn an established approach. Next time someone wants to throw out the playbook, ask – “How will these changes help us meet our goals?”

5) “I don’t have anything to do.”

In our modern, complex corporate environment, there is almost zero chance that this is true. If you’ve run out of paper to push, start thinking about ways you can improve your personal or team processes to make your work more efficient. If you’ve optimized those, ask people if they need any help with anything. If no one else needs help, start thinking about new products or services your group could create that would add value to your firm.

You get the idea. If you think of your job where you do a defined task for a pre-determined length of time, then go home, your chances of getting ahead are small. Take advantage of lax times to add even more value to what you’re already doing.

6) “That’s not fair!”

OK, first things first: it probably isn’t.

By the time most of us reach working age, we have a pretty well-developed intuition about right and wrong, fair and unfair, and if something strikes us as unfair, there’s a good chance that we’re right. But the problem is – that doesn’t matter. Life in general isn’t fair, and life at work is particularly unfair.

That being said – if you’re being seriously taken advantage of, speak up; if something legally-actionable is happening to you (if you’re being sexually harassed, for instance), don’t stand for it. But for more everyday unfairness – for colleagues that get paid more for doing the same job as you, for being passed up for the promotion for the fifth time – don’t just complain, make a plan to end it.

7) “I have another offer, but I want to stay here. Can you match?”

This doesn’t mean you shouldn’t go get other offers. You should! Aggressively seek positions that’ll pay you what you’re worth (whether it’s in money, work/life balance, job satisfaction, or some combination thereof).
But leveraging outside offers for raises with your current employer rarely works out. It isn’t fair, but bringing another offer to your boss almost certainly will be seen as a sign of disloyalty, and it’ll be assumed that you’ll ship out as soon as a better offer comes available. You might find yourself at the top of the layoff list and paradoxically out of a job not too long after.

8) “Don’t ask me, I just work here.”

“I just work here” is the quintessential expression of powerlessness. “I just work here” says “while I am here, I don’t do things, things are done to me.” It’s usually something someone says when they’re not a part of key decisions that affect their jobs.

The key to making this better isn’t to complain about it – as tempting and as cathartic as it might seem. You have to find a way to make yourself part of those key conversations that will impact the way you do your work and how you’re measured.

9) “It’s all my fault”.

This is a tricky one. Obviously, it’s good to take ownership over mistakes you’ve made and figure out how to improve. Trust me, people who own up to their mistakes ultimately make it farther in life than people who pretend that they do no wrong.

But don’t own up to too much – not because you want to avoid responsibility, but because unless you’ve been actively negligent or destructive, chances are it’s not really all your fault. Our work occurs in a complex organization called “the corporation”, and things that happen in one part of the corporation can very easily affect other parts without there being fault involved. So admit fault when necessary, but think systemically – why did the failure really happen? – to ensure you and your team move on and improve.

10) “I deserve a promotion.”

You probably do! But remember, corporations and life in general aren’t fair, and things go to those who a) ask for them and b) have earned them – however “earned” might be defined.

Chances are, if your organization is a big one, there are somewhat-objective standards for promotion to the level that you want to advance to. Find out what they are, and outline exactly how you compare against those standards. Beyond that, what have you personally done for your boss?  What kind of unique, relatively irreplaceable contributions can you point to? How do you make your team work better?

Where You At?

Hello kittens!

Have you been wondering why I have been so tardy with my posts lately? All I can say is that there's lots of creative irons in the fire, and of course real life always finds a way of intruding on my time here. But never fret...we (the royal "we") are creating. Here is a snapshot of some of the creative work that I've been up to the last few weeks....

Baking potica. Over and's so hard to perfect.

Started a girly quilt for my daughter.

Knitting cables, and more cables. Just a sleeve and a collar left!

Working on a new look for this space. Keep watching for it!

There's been a whole lotta making, and not too much communicating. I don't know if it's the -15 degree weather or what, but I've been kind of introverted lately. I'm so happy to sit in the house and pick up any number of projects I have in-process and quietly work. I can't be the only one with this antisocial affliction? Can I?

– Cassandra

PS-Alex sent this link to me last night. It's truly amazing. Check it out!

Book Review: Monster Academy: I Will Not Eat People

Matt Forbeck is a prolific writer. Now, I know that a lot of writers can (and have) been described this way but Mr Forbeck is some kind of special prolific. In 2012, he ran a Kickstarter called "12 for 12" in which he pledged to write 12 books in 12 months. While the effort wasn't perfect (he finished book 12 in the 13th month) it was, in my opinion, Herculean and insanely wonderful - mainly because he not only wrote his 12 pledged books but he also wrote commissioned work that still needed to be completed (including a "tie-in" book for the TV series Leverage) and threw in some game design work, you know...just because he could.

Oh... And did I mention he does all this while raising five kids (four of whom are quadruplets!)?

The thing is, it would be easy to dismiss all this if Forbeck's books weren't so much fun. My experiences so far have proven his writing to be quick, thoughtful, occasionally formulaic (which isn't necessarily a bad thing), and rollicking good fun.

Forbeck's most recent publication, MONSTER ACADEMY: I WILL NOT EAT PEOPLE is the first book in a trilogy that follows the adventures of Ruddy, an orphaned young dragon who often takes the form of a skinny teen with blazing red hair. Rescued from the keep of adventurers illegally raising him as their flying mount, Ruddy winds up remanded to the Monster Academy, where he is told that he has one last chance to become a valuable citizen of the kingdom — or face death.

There's a definite Harry Potter vibe - what with the school full of magical, mystical things, a band of misfit misfits, and an array of oddball authority figures (my favorite being Mr Mortis, the headmaster who's is literally nothing but bones). About midway through the book, the story turns into a cracking whodunit and, throughout the book, the themes are presented without "dumbing them down" for the younger audience. It is a book for anyone who wants a little escapism for the weekend, regardless of age. But, for parents of young adults who want to stretch their kids' thinking, this is a must-read. The main character, Ruddy, is inquisitive and asks tough questions about life, death, and the nature of hate and  virtue. He is a frightening fire-breathing dragon with a heart too big for his magical human form and, at a time when most of our heroes are very flawed, it is lovely to have a hero who is innocent, true, and courageous. Needless to say, I'm looking forward to following the continuing adventures of the monsters at the Royal Academy for Creature Habilitation.

If you're interested in the book, it's just been released and is available for download, for a limited time, for just $2.99. 

Finally, my favorite Forbeck book is CARPATHIA, an alternate history story of the sinking of the Titanic and the ship that responded to its distress calls - with vampires! Like all of Forbeck's books, it's fun read from an amazingly creative overachiever. :)

- Alex