everydaysparks

Stuff I see, which you might not.

Cakes. And Snakes.

My 2010 birthday cake – a giant cupcake

I come from a long line of cake lovers. And my mum was an amazing cake maker – every year, I used to get to choose a most incredible cake, which my mum would whip up the night before my birthday. I would go to bed hearing the sound of the mixer and in the morning, I would sneak into the dining room where the masterpiece would be sitting on the table. Under a barrier to keep it from me (and my brothers), of course.

I remember a large blackboard cake; a swimming pool cake complete with biscuit fence and green jelly as water; a clown; a bunny rabbit; a clock…oh, those were the days. I thought my mum was a magician – the way she could produce a cake that looked exactly like the one I’d seen in the book, overnight, just like that. I wasn’t to know how many hours she’d spent getting everything just right, or how long it took her to source and prepare the ingredients – to me, it was just an annual miracle that proved my mum was a genius. Which of course she was, and still is – even if she doesn’t make me elaborate cakes anymore. (That is probably for the best, as my metabolism seems to have slowed since the fancy-cake-days and that old formula of exercise required to burn off cake calories consumed seems to have tipped out of my favour.)

Last year, for my niece’s birthday, my sister-in-law went with a farmyard theme. We made these cupcakes – I was in charge of the chickens and the sheeps. A lot of marshmallows were needed in order to make a sheep face that didn’t look like he was going to attack the other animals (or the kids at the party). We were pretty pleased with our efforts.

Anyways, all this cake reminiscing was brought about by a link that my friend Ashley sent me the other day. According to an article in the Huffington Post, a lady in the UK had created an amazingly realistic cake for her daughter’s birthday that looks exactly like a Burmese python. Now, before I show you the photos, I should point out that Francesca (the python baker) works as a professional cake baker. My mum was a pharmacist and my sister and I have office jobs. Just so we can keep things in perspective, once I reveal the Burmese python birthday cake…

From the North Star Cakes Facebook page

And, voila. I’m not sure that I would have ever even thought to request a Burmese python cake. Kids these days. I’m not sure what inspired Francesca’s daughter to ask for it, but it has brought her mum fame across the internet. And presumably scared the life out of many of the party guests.

From the North Star Cakes Facebook page

The detail is just incredible, as is the colouring. Francesca is clearly an amazingly talented lady – I hope her daughter appreciates this cake as much as I appreciated my swimming pool cake. At this point, I should add some detail about my cake – my mum had even put little plastic people kicking back in Life Saver lollies in the pool. And green coloured coconut around the outside, as grass. I’m just sayin’.

From the North Star Cakes Facebook page

And finally, in what is probably not a faithful representation of the Burmese python, an inside full of delicious cake, jam and cream. Now, if there was a touch of red food colouring or jam that squirted out when the first cut was made, this cake would have been perfect. Almost as good as my mum’s swimming pool cake, I reckon.

You can read the Huffington Post article about Francesca’s cake here and the North Star Cakes Facebook page is here. Neither my sister-in-law nor my mum have a cake business Facebook page or a website, but I will check for some photos of my mum’s early work when I’m next at home and maybe Jane’s cakes will finally get the global recognition that she deserves!

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EverydaySparks Unique Gift Idea #73

A main idea of this blog is to share stuff I see, which you might not. And for me, that often includes wacky gift ideas. I recently stumbled across The Mountain T-Shirt Store via a sale on Fab.com. They sell an interesting range, which they call Big Face Animals. And although you probably think you can imagine what they look like, I’ve included some of my favourites from this intriguing range below. They might just make the perfect unique gift for an animal lover. Or the perfect exposure therapy for an animal fearer. Or just a funny present for someone who appreciates crazy looking shirts. I’ve certainly never seen anything like them before…

Black Lab Face

Bunny Face

Eagle Face

Green Eyes Face

And looking at all those giant faces has freaked me out a bit, so that’s enough for now. You can check out this bizarro range (and lots of other strangely named categories) at The Mountain T-Shirts shop here.

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Hope

I was recently talking with my lovely friend B about how I think I am suffering from some disorder that means I can’t keep track of time. B’s a med student, so he kindly considered my rambling description of forgetting or confusing birthdays, due dates, holiday departures and other calendar events and timeframes. Then B distracted me by asking about tv shows and, given that I also suffer from a short attention span, that was the end of that consultation.

Now, I’m not sure if it’s ironic or coincidental or just a sign of my advancing calendar-itis, but I’ve just realised that the Hope 2012 blog relay was due to end on Monday. And I haven’t run my leg of the relay yet. Not wanting to let down the lovely Jo, of the fabulous This Sydney Life, who passed the relay baton to me, I’m going to run it today. As a bit of background, the relay was started by blogger Melanie Crutchfield, inspired by all things Olympic. Melanie decided to blog about hope and then pass the baton to some blogging buddies, who would in turn blog on the same theme and then pass the baton along. A pretty cool way to spread words and ideas about hope around the blogging world.

Hope Necklace by Chic & Sweet on etsy

So, with that ridiculous amount of build-up, I now need to write a little something about hope. My first port of call for inspiration is, as always, etsy. Turns out you can buy Hope jewellery, bookmarks, iphone covers, t-shirts, prints, prayer books – etsy is a veritable hotbed of Hope.

And then I looked through the Camera Roll on my phone – lots of different people and places captured over the past year (or so). Lots of Hope there too. Hope for sunny weather, hope for bright futures for amazing little people, hope for safe travels, hope for new directions. So, I’ve picked my top few photos that say something about Hope to me. (This is likely to be sappier than my usual posts, but please be assured that normal EverydaySparks programming will resume shortly.)

Last Thursday I flew across the country to see some of my family, who live in the West. I was very excited to see them and it was such a beautiful day that I couldn’t help snapping a pic as we headed towards our landing in Perth. And then the thought crossed my mind: it’s actually pretty amazing that flying has become so humdrum – we just jump in a giant metal bird and fly up beyond the clouds til we reach our destination. No big deal anymore. Except it is a big deal – and it’s kind of the ultimate in hope – we’re totally reliant on a bunch of random strangers (engineers, pilots, service staff) doing their jobs well so that we travel safely. Up in the sky, past the clouds and the birds.

And here’s the EverydaySparks herb garden. Except I fear that this ‘garden’ needs not just hope, but faith and charity as well. The seeds (coriander, parsley, basil) were planted last month and some strange things have been happening in these pots. But I have hope that what looks like a mess of weeds will soon somehow magically start looking like the herbs that I buy from the shops. I’ll keep you posted…

Then there’s my home town of Sydney – full of hope and promise, especially on a sunny day. Sometimes I forget how lucky I am to be here – as I whinge about a late running ferry, or a slow barista, or the traffic. Waa waa waa. And then some days, I catch a view like this one and stop for a minute (ok, probably fifteen seconds) to try and take it in. And I hope that people who are visiting the city are having a great time; and that people who dream of being here will make it; and that we won’t do anything to mess up the beauty of it all. (Ok, and I also hope that the ferry will be on time and my coffee will be made quickly. I’m not Buddha.)

And last, but most definitely not least, a photo of the shoes of some of my most favourite people (with one small shoe missing – the teeniest feet were too little to stand in this pic). I know I’m a biased aunt, but the kids who stand in these shoes are just amazing – funny, smart, thoughtful, quirky, silly and sweet. They are soccer players, netballers, tennis players, fashionistas, dancers, cellists, wrestlers, pianists, drummers, and singers. They have ambitions of being doctors, vets, pet shop owners, acrobats, chefs, face painters, fairies, waitresses and teachers. For me, these peeps are what Hope is all about. (Granted, sometimes, it’s just hoping they’ll be quiet or go to sleep.)

And with that, I collapse at the finish line. That’s my part of the relay run. I hope I wasn’t too late!

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Happy Shark Week!

I like to think that I’m a woman of the world and I know what’s going on…which is why I can’t believe that until yesterday I hadn’t heard of Shark Week. You probably already know all about it, but just in case you’re like me and have missed this festival in previous years, here’s a brief update. Shark Week started back in 1988 – it’s a creation of the Discovery Channel and is essentially a week-long series of TV shows about sharks. Apparently, it was developed to help the average person have a greater respect for sharks. And it’s now broadcast in over 72 countries. Uh huh.

This year marks the 25th anniversary of Shark Week and the peeps at the Discovery Channel marketing machine have gone all out. In addition to the usual souvenir DVDs, books and t-shirts, you can also buy a heap of other wacky gear to show that you’re a friend of the sharks. Like this hat, for example.

Foam Fin Hat from the Shark Week Store

Or these cupcakes, custom-made in a Georgetown bakery. The toppers show a logo or a shark or A LONE HAND STICKING UP FROM THE OCEAN OF ICING. Not sure that image is helping the sharks’ cause, to be honest.

DC Cupcakes from the Shark Week Store

And then there’s this hoodie t-shirt (for adults and for kids) – if you hold your arms like you’re giving yourself a hug, you can scare the life out of people around you. Nothing says Happy Shark Week like a giant set of chompers headed your way.

Shark Week Hoodie from the Shark Week Store

Finally, here’s the ultimate Shark Week accessory for your canine companion – a Hammerhead Shark Pet Costume. It doesn’t seem quite right to me, but hey, anything goes in Shark Week!

Pet Costume from the Shark Week Store

So, I wish you and yours a very happy Shark Week. If you’d like to learn more about this Week, you can check out the Discovery Channel website here or head straight to the Shark Week Store to stock up on goodies here. A word of warning – when I checked, the website went straight to an auto-play video with a very scary voice over very scary music, “Deep beneath, a pre-dat-or is lurking…” Eeeeek – Happy Shark Week!

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Light it up

Sarah Turner in the UK makes incredible works of art. The fact that they’re also functional lights to hang from your wall or ceiling is just a bonus. And then they’re made from recycled materials, which is pretty much the cherry on top of the icing on the cake.

Here is Ella – over 1 metre wide, this amazing chandelier is made from 310 plastic drink bottles. Sarah says that she collected the bottles from local cafes and homes, cleaned them and sandblasted them to turn white. Ella got her name from her umbrella-like shape. Isn’t she pretty?

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And here’s Sprite 10, a table lamp made from ten old Sprite bottles. Morphed into an unrecognisable beautiful floral design. The lamp comes in traditional green, or the sugar-free blueness of Sprite Zero bottles.

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Daisy is another one of my favourites – again, made from sandblasted drink bottles and available in a wide range of colours.

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And another stunner – Cola 30 is made out of 30 recycled 1.25 litre Coke bottles. I try not to think too much about the sugar that was consumed to create this sweeeeet design. At least the people who drank the contents of the bottles were technically contributing to the greater good of Sarah’s amazing upcycling into art. And it’s almost impossible to tell at a glance what this ceiling light is made from, which makes it easier to forget about the source!

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You can check out more of Sarah Turner’s amazing work on her website here and these and many others are available for purchase (wherever you are in the world) in her etsy shop here. Love your work, Sarah!

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Bag lady designs

I like bags. And if they’re cute and clever and good for the environment, then so much the better, I say. And I’ve found these very cool canvas shopping totes on etsy, made by Pamela Fugate Designs, and I reckon they fit the bill.

Like this slightly more highbrow version of that famous Sir Mix-a-Lot quote…

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Or this, for fans of Fifty Shades of Grey. Yep, really.

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And for the bakin’ homeboy or homegirl in your life, there’s this bag.

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There’s this classic Mom/Mum bag, which I’m guessing is meant to stop any pesky children asking too many questions. But I wouldn’t recommend bringing it along to your local farmer’s market as it feels in conflict with the relaxed, organic, herbal kinda vibe. Unless of course you are the organic farmer selling your produce. In which case, you might want to sell these bags in answer to questions like, “Why does that organic clove of garlic cost $32?” or “How do you know that heirloom tomatoes are worth 500% more than regular tomatoes?” or that sort of thing.

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There’s also a range of customised wedding totes – I’m not really sure how they work though, to be honest. As a bridesmaid, I’ve never received a show bag of treats from the bride (not complaining, I have been lucky to receive much nicer gifts from the lovely brides I’ve maided for). And I’ve not been to a wedding that gave away a goodie bag instead of a small memento that you could take home in your handbag. But each to their own on their big day!

You can check out the range of bags (and shirts and baby outfits) at Pamela’s etsy shop here.

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Hey, Four Eyes

If you’re a regular reader of this blog, you’ll know that I’m a sucker for prints of animals as humans. Give me a cat in a suit or a dog driving a car or a bird reading a newspaper and I’ll laugh every time. Kevin Lucius of LuciusArt in Chicago is a master of the animal as human print and I love his work. Too many for just one post, so today I’ll just focus on the smartest animals in town. Uh huh.

Here is Tony, the Inquisitive River Otter. Tony was always asking questions. He had an irresistible thirst for knowledge.

Tony

And here is Marvin, the Book Smart Bear. Marvin took his studies very seriously.

Marvin

And here is Tiger (no name required). Some Tigers are cooler than others.

Tiger

Ah, Roger, the Studious Owl. As you can imagine, Roger was picked on more than anyone else in the 4th grade.

Roger

I know a monocle isn’t the same as spectacles, but here’s “Mr Fancy Cat”. Johnny was best dressed cat at the winter formal. Relive the memories of that night with this original print.

Johnny

If you’d like to see more, you can check out the LuciusArt shop on etsy here.

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Here’s looking at you…

I’m all for different creative ideas to liven up your walls with quirky works of art. And if you want to add a little science to your art, then so much the better, I say. And if you want to add a little bit of yourself – literally, in this case – to personalise your art, well then, go nuts. Which is kinda what the good people at DNA 11 have done.

Exhibit A: their DNA Portraits (TM) series. According to the website, here’s how it works: (1) Customise your artwork (choosing colour, style, size, frame), (2) Order your DNA collection kit, (3) Collect a cheek cell swab using your kit [uh huh], and (4) send the sample back and let the DNA 11 people work their magic. Whether you want your genetic code artwork to look like the sparkling lights of a big city, or perhaps golden rays of sunshine, there is an option to suit you. You can also get a print made of your pet’s DNA, if you prefer.

Or maybe you’re not a huge fan of DNA, incredible though it may be, but you still want some sort of personalised art on your wall. How about a fingerprint? Yep, there is a Fingerprint Portraits (TM) series. In a similar process to the DNA series, you purchase a Fingerprint Collection Kit and then print away til you’re happy with one, which you then send back to make your artwork with your chosen colours, size, style and frame.

And then there’s the KISS Portraits (TM) series. With this series, you get a gift with purchase – a lipstick, of course. Again, you order the Kiss Collection Kit, ‘apply the provided Revolution Organics lipstick’, then you ‘kiss the kiss sheets till you make the perfect lip print’, send it back and you’re set.

A unique gift idea for someone who has everything. A different twist on personalised art. A way to make sure that prints of you (well, parts of you) last forever. Whatever your motivation, this is definitely an interesting idea and the DNA 11 website is well worth a look. And don’t worry, they ship fingerprints, DNA and kisses all around the world.

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Greetings from Mars

In honour of the amazing landing on Mars by NASA’s rover, Curiosity, which has brought space geeks from all across the universe so much joy, this post is dedicated to some Martian wares. Please be assured that I’m not mocking this incredible event – with my geeky tendencies, I can’t read or see enough about it. The dedication, planning and sheer brainpower that has gone into this triumph is truly mind-blowing. And of course, the rover is on Twitter (@MarsCuriosity) sending back pics of its adventures. Hopefully the reality tv show is only a few months away. Anyways, in case it’s still a while ’til we all get to visit, these can help us keep a little bit of Mars with us on Earth.

Olga Voloshchenko is a designer from Russia and she has hand made this unique felt handbag, entitled Whether there is a life on Mars. According to Olga, “the problem of cats and mice is actual always – whenever they were, even on Mars”. Let’s hope that Curiosity’s mission isn’t thrown by getting caught up in a game of cat and mouse. This bag is dynamic – you can move the creatures around the bag’s ‘craters’ for a slightly different look every day. I also love this image because of the cat burglar styling of the model displaying the bag. I definitely believe Olga’s promise: You will be unique with this bag! You can check out Olga’s bag on etsy here.

Or if you want to impress your mates with happy snaps from Mars, you might like this Mars Travel poster collection from Ron Guyatt in Canada. Of course, they’re not really happy snaps – although that Curiosity rover is so clever that photo postcards from Mars are surely only a matter of time.  These prints are a collection of the presumed highlights of Mars – the must-see tourist attractions, if you will. You know, at least until Mars Disneyland has been built.  The posters are on sale in Ron’s etsy shop here.

Perhaps a coffee table book is your way of showing that you’re in touch with what’s going on in the world. Maybe you have a pile of books, casually arranged to impress visitors – covering a range of topics from Alfafa to Zippers. If you’re on the lookout for a new book, this 1989 story might be just the thing. Hello, Mars! by Geoffrey T. Williams is the tale of a 13 year old boy who gets a pretty special birthday present – news of a move to Mars (with his parents, of course) to be among the first humans to colonise the planet. I’ve not read it, but presumably it could now be a sort of Lonely Planet guide for future travellers to Mars. There’s more info on Goodreads here if you’re interested.

And if you would like to start getting comfortable with those who will soon be your friends and colleagues, you can buy these wall decals from Christy at Graphicspaces in the USA. Pop them up around your (Earthly) home, so that by the time you relocate to Mars, it will seem like you’ve known the locals for years. You can buy these decals (and many other cool designs) from the Graphicspaces shop on etsy here.

So, now we’re ready.

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Pop Charts

Some people need charts and visuals to really make sense of the world. I see how it can sometimes be helpful to reduce the confusion of something big or complex into a series of connected boxes on an A3 piece of paper. In the corporate world, accountants have their ‘mud maps’, HR people have their ‘org charts’, management consultants have their ‘stakeholder maps’ and marketing people tend to have something brightly coloured and written in code, so that it doesn’t make sense to outsiders. But that’s just work. What if there were clever people who used their charting prowess to help us navigate and better understand the real world? Ta-da, here’s Pop Chart Lab.

The Lab began a couple of years ago, founded by a book editor and a graphic designer who joined forces with one modest goal in mind: to render all of human experience in chart form. Uh huh. Their range is amazing – they have tackled everything from beer to culinary devices to the story of a boy’s migration to a town called Bel Air. Here are some of my favourite prints (they also print their charts on t-shirts, in case you want to educate the masses).

(c) Pop Chart Lab

Oh yes, from Bill Haley in the top left to Lady Gaga in the bottom right corner, this is indeed A Visual Compendium of Notable Haircuts in Popular Music. It’s a signed, limited edition print that is sure to get people talking. And if you like this, you’ll probably like its cousin: A Visual Compendium of Notable Haircuts in Hollywood. (That one even includes Chewbacca’s impressive ‘do, along with several cast members of the Harry Potter franchise.)

(c) Pop Chart Lab

And here’s the chart that I think is my favourite – a collection of 13 pie charts about pies. Yep, they’re breaking down the ingredients that go into those delicious desserts and it is just as scary as you might imagine. All the old favourites are there – including Fig. 12, Peanut Butter Pie, which is full of gooey goodness: by my calculations, almost 50% peanut butter, around 20% Oreos and almost as much butter, with a fair dose of heavy cream, vanilla extract and bittersweet chocolate. God bless America, I say. (If pies aren’t your thing, you might like The Delectable Kaleidoscope of Candy Bars – a pretty, colourful and super-detailed examination of the common ingredients and textures linking a bzillion different types of sweet treats.)

(c) Pop Chart Lab

And finally, Constitutions of Classic Cocktails breaks down nearly 70 famous drinks into their constituent parts. Apparently, this is the most elaborate chart that the Lab folk have ever made – it is beautifully designed and unbelievably detailed. Whether you’re looking for inspiration to get shakin’, know a dedicated barfly with a birthday coming up, or just like the design, this is a good ‘un. I love it because to me it looks as though the cocktails are at the centre of a mysterious sort of galaxy. Or perhaps cocktails are like the Wheel of Fortune. And let’s face it, when the drinks are flowing, both of those statements are generally true.

If you’re thirsty for more info, you can check out many more educational works of art at the fabulous Pop Chart Lab site here.

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