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australia, ocean

Detours off Britta Blvd


here we go!
australia, ocean
Drum roll please...both new sites are now live! I've created LiveJournal RSS feeds for each, so you can friend those to keep up with me from now on.

Britta Blvd: Popular Parties with Panache, Fun Food with Flair, and other Whimsical Works
(parties, edible art, recipes & costumes, plus other projects like home remodeling and smaller-scale crafty fun)

(Brittas of the World, my family including the furry members, music & worldwide travels)

Thanks for reading! :)

new book Enhanced Eerie Elegance now for sale!
Today I am extremely excited to announce that my new book Enhanced Eerie Elegance: More Halloween Party Ideas & Recipes with a Touch of Spooky Style is on sale now for $19.95 + shipping! It is 72 pages of all new projects and recipes chock full of 202 full-color illustrations. You can order autographed copies starting today on the EerieElegance.com website, and Amazon should be active in a couple days. Autographed orders will begin shipping next Thursday!

You can combine the new book with the first Eerie Elegance book and the DVD 13 Fabulous Frights in one shipment to anywhere in the world! Domestic US is the same $5, but international shipping costs have increased this year, so I've had to increase Canada/Mexico to $12 and the rest of the world to $14.

The apothecary labels have moved to my Etsy shop, so now you can purchase individual sets of labels or blank pages and combine shipping between Etsy orders from the Britta Blvd shop. New items like Dastardly Dangles and Stylish Spiders jewelry will be coming soon for Halloween too!

I was hoping the two new websites for britta.com & Britta Blvd would be ready by now, but they're still a bit too much under construction quite yet. Look for updates to those in the next couple weeks though!

I hope you enjoy Enhanced Eerie Elegance as much as I enjoyed developing it! Also stay tuned for new video podcasts to be released as we get closer to Halloween season!

getting closer!
australia, ocean
It's been forever (believe me I know!), but the new MacMini server is now up & running! Using Gallery is still tricky, so it is now closed to adding photos or comments, but all the photos are still up as an archive & running much faster on the new machine.

My plan is for my new domain BrittaBlvd.com to have all the fun with food, parties, books (yes plural!) like Eerie Elegance & creative projects, then britta.com will keep family stuff, travel adventures, gardening, general musings, etc. I'll update the britta.com blog with links to the BrittaBlvd.com stuff, so you can follow just one or both, depending on the content you'd like to read...

...however I have outgrown what LiveJournal can do for me, so both of the new blogs will be on my own WordPress instances inside my own websites. This will allow better integration with my static webpages and better topic organization. Since my LJ account is permanent, I won't be taking anything down, just not updating anymore, so if you're only following me on your LJ friend feed, you'll miss everything new. I'm still working on the layout & appearance of the new blogs plus catching up on content, all while writing "Enhanced Eerie Elegance" for publication this summer, so I appreciate your continued patience for those of you still reading!

When the new blogs officially go live, I will post here & hope you'll keep following!

Happy Holidays!
Server issues are still plaguing gallery, hence the lack of recent posts since the projects need photos...but I risked another server crash to post a single image to wish everyone Happy Holidays! :)

Halloween 2010 Party Post-Mortem
Another Halloween has come & gone! It was another great party, with 35 adults, 7 kids from babes in arms to tweens, and the first Halloween rain in a decade, but fantastically creative costumes & deliciously creep cuisine from everyone! This post is so late because I kept hoping to post a few more photos along with this, but our server has been struggling so badly lately (see below), that I finally decided not to wait any longer.

I can't remember a wetter October since I've been hosting Halloween! Due to the wind & rain, I didn't get out the fog machines, nor did I try the projector ghosts for fear of damaging the electronics. Hopefully next year my weather luck will come back! I also knew I didn't want to use foam or cardboard, but I didn't get the chance for the plasma TV frame, nor did I get photos chosen for that slideshow, so that's on the list for next year too. This year the Gingerbread Gargoyles got decorated so people could tell what they were, I did finally get the prize trophies done, after at least 4 years of having the idea on my list, the ruined walls were finished for out front by the pirates, and all 13 travel photos got finished & framed for the quiz "Where in the World is Miss Wells?"

Even though the rain was on & off all day, thankfully it didn't actively rain during the party, but it was still chilly enough no one ventured past the covered patio. Just as well that I didn't spend time decorating the backyard this year. Many were searching for all 21 owls inside & outside, and I insisted everyone try the Miss Wells quiz even if just to appreciate my Photoshop efforts. ;) Except for the oldest, the kids ended up watching The Nightmare Before Christmas in the guest room, having a grand time, while around 10pm the adults played the Name That Tune Spooky Shows quiz. Somehow either when I prepped the quiz back in August or transferring to my iPhone I ended up with only 12 clips instead of 13...ack! I tallied the votes for the costumes, some furious competition between categories, then announced the winners, presenting them all with their custom trophies! I did sever & serve the Haunted Human Heart again out in the lab, to the lovely disgusted looks on faces around me. :) About 11pm people started leaving, with the last guests gone by midnight, fairly early for Halloween, but everyone said they had a great time!

For even more details, you can click to read these links...

Final Party PrepCollapse )

Gingerbread Haunted House, strike 2Collapse )

new server hardware neededCollapse )

And the winners are...!

Scariest Costume = Glen attacked by spiders
Most Original Costume = Bugs Bunny Ruth & Elmer Fudd George, complete with gun that said BANG!
Ultimate Costume = Bun in the Oven Audene with Chef Jeff, complete with detailed recipe including sugar & spice, with alternate snips & snails, & warnings of oven being tempermental while baking!
Ogle the Owls = Piper got all 21 first! Since people kept asking me for hints, this was more difficult than I thought!
Where in the World is Miss Wells? = Mari! Everyone got them all, so I picked number from 1-20 to break the tie
Creepy Cuisine = Glen for his glowing jack o lantern cheese ball!
Name that Tune Spooky Shows = Ben & Marco with 11!

For all the photos I've been able to post so far, including all the costumes & all Creepy Cuisine, click here.

I hope everyone had a horribly haunted Halloween! Until next year! :)

Halloween Party Prep Progress
I've been in a whirlwind of party prep so far, and excited that Eerie Elegance book sales finally cracked the 800 mark this week, but first a little bit of news...Karen Waschinski was kind enough to post a nice review of Eerie Elegance and a few of my recipes as part of her Halloween Studio Tour website, a group of artists banding together to benefit Bat Conservation International. Karen makes very cool plush sculptures...her miniature rats & bats are adorable, but my favorite is the dragon!

Now for the party prep progress! Food first:

  • 4 dozen witches fingers safely in airtight tins
  • 5 dozen meringue bones in airtight plastic (larger bones this year so not the usual 14 dozen)
  • 6 dozen pumpkin pasties in the freezer
  • 5 dozen mini jack o lantern pumpkin spice donuts in the freezer
  • 4.5 dozen gingerbread gargoyles ready for piping decoration
  • shrimp already ground & refrozen for the brain later
    (since the food processor was out for the pie crust dough, this way I don't have to clean it again for this party!)

I think that's almost half the menu, which is awesome! The fresh stuff & gelatin body parts have to wait of course, but I feel much better having this all done already, especially since the gingerbread mansion must be assembled this weekend since I'll be gone most of the week before my party on my work trip!

As of 3am Friday morning, Miss Hermione G. Wells' leather buckle bodice is ALL DONE, so I can finally put the sewing machine away! Since the top hat is already done, and the rest is reused from last year, with a couple more accessories on the utility belt, that's my costume finished a whole week before the party...thank goodness!

As for decor, it's beginning to look a lot like Halloween! :D I was lucky & very thankful to have a house-elf appear last Saturday afternoon for several hours! Not much outside decor yet since I'm afraid of more rain this weekend like this past weekend, but if even I don't get to decorate any more inside, Castle Brittahytta and the Library Laboratory will still feel nicely spooky!

  • skeleton hand lights in front corner bushes
  • started new aging technique on gravestones & foam stone walls
  • both backyard sheds covered in flagstone gossamer to match
  • purple web fabric cover for front porch light
  • 12 new pillow covers in 3 spooky fabrics - more elegant than the old cutesy pumpkin pillow covers
  • new inside wall decor - plaster wearing away from stone walls - filmed for a future podcast
  • spooky portrait gallery in hallway
  • gargoyle collection arranged on fireplace mantel
  • living room tapestry & web curtains
  • black candles in all candleholders (thanks Melanie!)

  • new canvas curtains hanging in patio - had waited until after summer season over (thanks Melanie!)
  • all bookshelf wallpaper murals ready to hang to cover all patio walls this year, but not hanging until party time in case it gets moist outside
  • all spooky drinkware in place on the bar bookcase - fills 4 shelves! (thanks Melanie!)
  • patio garage door & fridge are "hidden" bookcase functional doors
  • wine fridge & side of patio fridge covered with woodgrain contact paper
  • 13 frames all in place & 8 images already edited for new quiz "Where in the World is Miss Wells?"
  • skull fountain reinforced & in place over the skull lace tablecloth on a sturdier table in the corner
  • shelf-safe potions already in lab bottles with new labels (thanks Melanie!)

  • new permanent patio bar chalkboard = Michaels half-price frame sale (but still $50!) + $3 thin MDF + $5 chalkboard spray paint = invested since will be year-round, especially Cinema Brittahytta in summer!

  • curtains behind pipe organ on outer patio
  • rewired pipe organ so iPod & keyboard play through built-in speakers
  • new gold & black foam carving detail for pipe organ
  • same foam stone walls for arch door on patio
  • outer patio furnished more as another interior room, including Creepy Cuisine table
  • Name That Tune quiz audio clips already edited & arranged in playlist
  • finished new gravestone aging techniques - painted moss plus vines - filmed for a future podcast

Still on the list:

  • decorative frame around the plasma TV back in place against the wall, with digital photos as the artwork cycling through (has to be landscape format though). Haven't chosen the photos yet, not sure if I should use canvas fabric, paper, or cardboard, for the fancy frame.

  • revise projected ghosts to higher contrast - Zoombox/DVD projector will work sitting on gate arbor & shooting onto house wall, but last year's DVD only shows white blobs so needs more detail. Tested new projector but the ancient DVD player won't play the new burned DVD and I need the PS3 for the living room TV.

  • finish 5 more Miss Wells travel photos but shouldn't take too long since images already selected & prepped.

  • finish new ruin aging techniques - painted moss plus vines

  • new quiz sheets Miss Wells, gingerbread mansion, 2010 voting - need to design, print & cut

  • prize trophies - have had this idea for 4 years I swear, so hoping it finally gets done with a new cooler brainstorm from this week

  • all the fresh party food of course! Waiting for menu signs until the last minute in case any items need to be cut from the menu

Wish me luck getting the gingerbread mansion done this weekend, even with moist weather forecasted! :-O Hope everyone is enjoying their Halloween season!

Halloween Party Prep Progress & New "Antique" Wells Apothecary Labels for sale!
Happy October everyone! I've been back from my adventures overseas just over a week now, and I've already made excellent Halloween progress! My first major project is not only completed for my own party, but available for sale!

Inspired by authentic antique pharmacy jars, these weathered apothecary labels are perfect for your vintage mad scientist laboratory! For only $6.95 plus shipping, the Wells Apothecary Label Package includes 20 pre-printed labels plus 20 write-your-own labels in various sizes on 4 full pages to trim as you like.

I even figured out how to use Paypal better, so now I have a shopping cart where shipping can be combined if people buy up to 5 items in one shipment for me to squeeze into single flat-rate USPS envelopes. I've already had a handful of orders for the DVD + autographed book together, so I can easily see someone buying all DVD + book + set of labels for the single $5 domestic US shipping!

As for other Halloween progress, you've probably guessed by the apothecary name that I'm continuing the Hermione G. Wells theme this year. I ran out of time & never found the supplies I wanted for the leather buckly bodice last year, so that's on the plan this year, plus last weekend I already covered a cheap costume top hat with the same bronze upholstery velvet I used for the spats, and I love it with the grommeted belt as a hat band! I think I'll remove the buckle to use a cool aqua map cameo I bought last year, but there should be time for that later. I also might need to scavenge that belt for some of the bodice since the grommets are so cool, so I'm not altering the hatband until the bodice is complete.

I have a huge to-do list this weekend, including getting out all the boxes from the garage, my annual Halloween shopping trip with Tash is next weekend, then thankfully there are still 2 full weekends before my party! Even with the mandatory 3-day work trip getting home 24 hours before party start time, I think I'll be able to get a lot of major new projects done!

home again!
I didn't expect so much to post about today, but I had my first tea on a train from a tea trolley, found my favorite peach schnapps never available in the USA at Heathrow duty-free, and for our last "pub" drink picture of our trip, I even found a new cider Old Rosie's cloudy scrumpy that tastes suspiciously like my homebrew, perhaps the same strain of British ale yeast! Well it tasted like my homebrew about a week extra fermenting than the flavor I prefer, but definitely better than Strongbow or Blackthorn. :)

Our flight was delayed a whole hour because the plane didn't arrive on time, but after they tried to sell us an upgrade to Economy Plus for more leg room, I'm glad we didn't bother, since we had one of the upgraded 777s on the way home today, with the enhanced on-demand entertainment AND enough leg room my knees did not touch the seat in front of me...amazing! When walking past it didn't look like any more leg room than the Economy Plus seats.

I watched 3 movies & slept a bit since I could lean on the wall at the window seat, then since they were trying to make up time, they had enough re-routes that we were coming in directly south into San Francisco, on a clear day so it was a gorgeous view of the Golden Gate and the whole bay! I'd never flown in that direction, at least not in daylight or without fog, and it was a very nice welcome home!

Lincolnshire for our Last Day
Our last day in England started out gloomy again, but by the time we toured Gainsborough Hall, blue skies had appeared! Gainsborough Hall is an old Tudor manor house, complete with the wonkiest sagging timbers I've ever seen Can you see how it tilts inward? I'm surprised some of the upper floors didn't have things rolling around the floors were so angled! There were two groups of young kids there, all dressed up with costumed docents, so that was fun. I was sad none of the clothes were grown-up sized, but Chris did stick a jester hat on my head while I was listening to the audio tour, then a complete stranger walking by separately said "It suits you" just after Chris had said the same...haha...Janet found another jester hat & attempted to juggle, then she insisted Cyd & I pose with the papier-mache Henry VIII.

We went all the way up the tower steps for a nice view of the town. Even though none of the furniture is original to the hall, they have it all set up with props & fake food, which was fun, especially the huge kitchen, one of the best preserved Tudor kitchens.

From Gainsborough we drove to a pub along the river called the Jenny Wren, another favorite of Janet & Chris when taking visitors around. I enjoyed a fish pie, with smoked haddock, salmon & shrimp with mashed potatoes on top. Delicious! We all had bread & butter pudding with proper custard for dessert too, since we knew this was our main meal of the day. Cute pub with all sorts of fun things hanging from the beams, and Country Life magazines to browse, seeing which manor houses or country homes were our favorites. Cyd liked the ones in France or Italy, but my favorite was a 14th century Oxfordshire ivy-covered stone gatehouse with a spiral stone staircase "in need of refurbishment" on 26.5 acres...but I'd still rather build my own small castle in the Bay Area hills instead! ;)

From the pub we drove to Epworth, to the rectory where John Wesley grew up, the founder of the Methodist church. We had a personal guided tour from a very knowledgeable older gentleman, and since I didn't know much about the origins of the Methodist church, I learned a lot. We also browsed the gardens a bit, still thankful for the sunshine!

Since we were still full from our pub lunch, we strolled around Epworth, up to St Andrew's Church with its large graveyard (yes, lots of Halloween research), and Samuel Wesley's tomb, where John Wesley preached when they wouldn't let him preach inside the church. Then we strolled through the rest of town, past a cute brick house with fabulous flowers, down to the Wesley Memorial Methodist Church from the late 1800s.

Tonight was a light dinner of soup, with a large variety of cheeses, apples & salami while watching Monday night quiz shows on BBC, then Cyd went to the computer while the rest of us watched Chuck...heehee! Not the season premiere, since as I'm writing this that still hasn't aired yet, but they're not too far behind, only a few episodes from the season 3 finale. We have to leave the house before 7:30am to get to the train station on time, then it'll be a long travel day all the way to London by train, from Kings Cross to Paddington, then to Heathrow before we get on the long plane ride home!

A Byronic Journey
We had a delicious cooked breakfast this morning even with black pudding, then headed in the car for Newstead Abbey, the ancestral home of the poet Lord Byron. He only lived there a few years, and the previous lord had close to bankrupt the estate, so he couldn't improve it, so it was his bachelor pad for "wild parties," with practice shooting in the great hall, and using the dining room as a gym. He finally had to sell to his friend who was able to improve it, then it was taken care of through different families since then, now as a tourist center, so most rooms are more recent than the poet's time, but they have a few rooms furnished as he did, including the pistol at his bedside.

Byron loved animals, dogs especially, and there is a large monument in the gardens for his Newfoundland called Boatswain ("bosun"). Quite the inscription, and the poor dog only lived 5 years. I had never seen these fairytale mushrooms in real life before, so both Chris & I got artsy in the wet grass trying to get this photo. ;) Speaking of Chris, he found a goose wing feather & did his best brooding Byron pose on a garden bench...haha! We strolled around the entire large gardens, finding this waterfall in the Japanese section, then started the tour inside the house.

Having heard so much about Byron's many sordid love affairs with both persuasions, it was funny to see this sign! Also this gilded bed was his bed at school in Cambridge...did your college dorm beds ever look like this? haha...I took a billion photos of the books in the library for Halloween research, and the cases were very interesting telling about his life and showing original copies of his works. There was even an interactive area to dress up! Hilarious since on the drive Janet had been asking why didn't we bring our puffy poet shirts to wear today. Here I am doing my best brooding Byron pose in a puffy shirt & hooded cloak! ;)

We left the abbey and drove a little ways to Southwell, where Byron grew up before living at Newstead Abbey. We had tea & snacks at a little deli, went to Southwell Minster where we could hear the organ & choir since evening services were going on, but I didn't pay the permit fee for inside photos, so I took some video with my camera in my bag just for the sound. ;) We stopped in the one shop still open on a Sunday afternoon, quite a challenge in these smaller towns, and I splurged on honeycomb and toffee ice cream at the sweet shop. Very tasty!

We drove back to Janet & Chris' house, turned on the oven, then strolled down to their local pub for a pint. By the time we finished & walked back, the oven timer was just going off, and dinner was delicious stuffed pork loins with roasted potatoes. We watched The School of Rock since not even Cyd had seen that before, and it was more entertaining than I expected, quite cute really, reminding me a bit like Sister Act. Worth a rental but not full theatre price. :)

Tomorrow is our last day before going home, and we're still deciding where to go...either a local brewery tour (no they don't make ciders) or a medieval park & funky pub. Then it's repacking since we have to leave 7am to catch our train to London to get to Heathrow for our afternoon flight home. Sure glad I have a whole day to recuperate before going back to work!