Monday, November 14, 2011

Hand Carved Stamps

 I have been making hand carved stamps lately. I love the quality of the lines, especially the 'shadow' lines that form in the spots where not enough material has been removed. The process is relaxing and requires me to slow down; if I work quickly, I make mistakes.

I've looked at a few tutorials online that suggest tracing a design, then transferring it to the eraser or stamping compound. I do think that works well, but my favorite stamps have been the ones I draw directly, then carve. My very favorite was a cupcake that my daughter drew onto an eraser, and I cut out. She was delighted to have a stamp of her drawing. So delighted that the stamp immediately disappeared into her room never to be seen again.

 I was able to pick up a linocutter at Michaels with one of those omnipresent 40% off coupons. Now I just need to invest in an actual stamp pad, as my kiddos play stamp pad tends to run and smear...or maybe I am just a poor stamper!

The linocutter is a handy little gadget, if someone of a unitasker. As I've carved, I've been thinking of the linoleum prints we made back in high school art class. I can still hear the sound of the brayer as we rolled the sticky paint onto the block. I'd love to try that again sometime. In the meantime, I'm loving these little eraser stamps and am planning to give a few as gifts.

Friday, October 7, 2011

Witch Box

As my oldest daughter celebrated her birthday by sitting down with her friends and painting canvases, I sat nearby to eavesdrop and paint this witch box. The box was a simple paper mache box from the craft store, on sale for $1.50. I used acrylic craft paint for the witch and the jack-o-lanterns circling the box. I found it ironic that I was painting paper mache with craft paint while the girls had nice artists' acrylic and gessoed canvas.

I gave my witch some cute high heeled shoes. I figured she might as well look good as she heads out into the night.

I packed the box with a bicornu pattern from etsy and all of the goodies needed to make it. This was a fun project and turned out, I think, almost as well as the Pokemon and kawaii paintings completed down at the other side of the table.

Sunday, September 25, 2011

Amigurumi Bumblebee ready for Halloween

This little bumblebee's friend, Bumblebunny, is ready for Halloween. Both of the bees were crocheted in the round and are a quick and fun project for beginner crochet artists. I used a 'g' hook and a lightweight yarn. There are some spots where the filling shows (as you can see in the pictures), so I probably should have used an 'f' hook. When making amigurumi, choose the smallest hook size that you can comfortably crochet with. The final result will be smaller, but there won't be stuffing showing!

R1: chain 3, join, 6 sc into center (6)
R2: 2sc into each ch around (12)
R3: 2sc, sc around (18)
R4-7: sc around (18)
R8: switch to black yarn. sc around (18)
Place eyes. Sew on mouth. Make sure the joins where you started the black yarn are on on the top of the body. In this way, you will be able to cover the awkward join with the wings. I didn't do this on the first bee (see pictures) and it makes a big difference in making the bee look 'polished'!
R9-11: switch back to yellow yarn. sc around (18)
R12: switch to black yarn. sc around (18)
R13-14: switch to yellow yarn. sc around (18)
R15: sc, decrease around (12)
R16: decrease around (6)
R17: continue to decrease. Normally when you get down to 4-6 chains you stop and weave in the ends to make a round end. In this case, we want a pointy 'stinger' so continue to decrease until the yarn begins to pucker outward and you have only a single ch left. Tie off and weave in, creating stinger.

Wings: (Make 2 in white yarn.)
R1: chain 3, join, 6 sc into center (6)
R2: 2sc into each ch around (12)
R3: 2sc, sc around (18)
Tie off.

Sew the two wings together. Sew them to the top of the body, covering the joins between the yellow and black yarn. For antennae, tie together three pieces of yarn (about five inches long) and braid them together. Use the crochet hook to pull the untied end into the head on one side and then out on the other. Rebraid end, if necessary. Tie off at desired length and trim the excess.

If your bee is a fan of Halloween, like Bumblebunny, make sure to make him a costume! Be creative with this. Over the years, I've had bumblebears and bumblebunnies, but how about making a bumblebutterfly or bumbletiger?

I'd love to hear from you if you use any of my patterns. And I'd really love to see pictures. Thanks for reading!

Thursday, September 22, 2011

An Empty Jewelry Box

Isn't this jewelry box cool? When I was home this summer, I helped my aunt clean the cobwebs from the rafters of her root cellar, and I came upon my uncle's old photography supplies. My aunt gifted a few of the tins to me and I brought them out of the cellar that they'd been resting in for decades. This tin had a gorgeous patina on the outside. I wanted to alter the tin, but I didn't want to lose the texture of the patina, so I painted it with a matte black spray paint. On the inside I used a peacock blue acrylic paint (the recipient is a big fan of peacocks).

I crocheted a peacock feather for the top, and I wish you good luck finding a peacock feather pattern--I couldn't find any! Instead I borrowed an old peacock feather fan from my mom and mimicked the shape and colors as best I could. I used eyelash yarn for the outside round and stem. The stem was a little too goofy, and I thought to cut it off before gluing the feather to the top of the altered tin jewelry box. But just when I was ready to do so, I thought perhaps I should make the feather detachable. I carefully attached Velcro to a circle of felt and glued it to the back of the crocheted feather. Then I glued a matching circle of felt to the top of the box. I wrapped the stem around the edges, to be used later, if detached. The Velcro clings to the felt on the top of the box enough to keep the feather in place, or allows it to be removed. I finished the project up by placing some cool little self-adhesive half beads on the sides and lid.

Looking at the pictures of the empty jewelry box makes me think of the four pieces of jewelry that I wear every day: my nose ring, my wedding ring, a toe ring from my grandmother and a ring on my thumb that I wear to honor my commitment to my husband's family. My jewelry box is empty (well, metaphorically anyway!) because I carry my jewelry with me through the day.

When I was tiny, I remember seeing a picture on the cover of National Geographic magazine of a girl with a nose ring. I thought she was beautiful, and felt drawn to her. I thought, "I wish people here could have that kind of jewelry." This was Ohio in the 1970's. Wheat bread was exotic, whole wheat bread unheard of, so a nose ring was not something I could ever expect to see on the people around me. But I continued to think that the nose ring (and the girl) were beautiful, and remembered the picture long after the magazine had left our orange-shag-carpeted home.

When I was a teenager, things began to change somewhat in my world. I  traveled out of the suburbs and met kids who grew up in urban areas. In Cleveland, my friend's step-mom (a step-mom! How strange and different that seemed) served us an exotic food: vegetarian chimichangas. They tasted like nothing I'd ever eaten before. "What is this delicious herb?"
"It's cilantro," she shrugged.
"I have to tell my mom about this! It's the best thing I ever tasted!" When I went home, my mother told me she knew what cilantro was, but that she hated it. I was perplexed.

In the early nineties, I began college and was earning the money to pay for it. I was on the Ramen Noodle meal plan, living in an apartment with others who had not experienced that particular rung on the socioeconomic ladder. One day, my friends invited me to go to Ann Arbor with them, where they said they knew a guy who had a piercing gun. I could get my nose pierced. I jumped at the chance.

A year later, I headed off to Alaska during summer break to try to get a job on a fishing boat. I found a position working on a floating processor. I remember that the company took us to the ship on a smaller boat and that as everyone strolled around talking and meeting each other, I wandered to the quiet stern and watched the wake pooling out behind us. I was so happy to be in Alaska, in the closest thing to a frontier that I was likely to ever see. I wanted to get away from the chatter and see the water seeming to grow larger as the shore shrank in the distance.

Later, my husband would tell me that that was the first time he saw me. A girl standing alone, with long black hair and a nose ring, staring backwards when others were looking not much of anywhere. I added a wedding ring to my list of every day jewelry a little less than two years later.

Back in the Midwest, my husband and I were living in State College, Pennsylvania while he finished school. My Hungarian grandmother sent me $10 as a birthday gift. I was working as a salad prep/bartender in a local restaurant while we tried to pay rent and out-of-state tuition. Ten dollars was a fortune. I found a tiny ring in one of the eclectic shops along College Avenue and bought it. I put it on my toe and have not taken it off. That summer I showed my grandmother. "Nagymama, look at this toe ring. You gave it to me."

"You're welcome, Dear."

When my husband finished school and began to look for a job, he said that he wanted to travel half way across the world to visit his family for three months. "If I don't do it before I find a job, then I will be working all the time and we'll never get a chance to go back for that much time." It was a wise decision and I will never forget the time I spend in my wonderful in-laws home, eating mangos and learning the language. Before leaving the US, I bought myself a large ring and placed it on my left thumb. I performed a silent ceremony as I put it on, telling myself that the ring represented my marriage to my husband's family. As long as that ring remained on my hand, I would remain committed to them. They are delightful, kind and loving people and I've never once felt like taking that ring off.

While visiting, I got the chance to visit one of the most densely populated cities in the world, to wander a gorgeous, long unsullied beach, and to eat my mom-in-laws cooking. But after only a week or so, my bread-raised soul grew tired of rice and, in the heat, I found I could no longer eat hot rice generously anointed with ghee. So I switched to the local fruit. I ate tiny prickly pineapples that had all the flavor of our large ones condensed into one bite. I had lychees by the bunch. And you know how each summer, you get to eat that one perfect watermelon, the one that tastes so good that you eat watermelons all summer long just trying to get another perfect one? That summer I had perfect watermelon after perfect watermelon. And the mangos!

Mangos were in season and the variety was as wide as the variety of apples I'd eaten each fall in Ohio. (I grew up a mile down the road from an orchard. An extensive orchard.) In my husband's family home, I ate tiny yellow mangos, and medium mangos that were mottled brown on the inside but creamy, sweet and tart on the inside. I ate oversized mangos with a slightly spicy bite to them. My mom-in-law chopped up green mangos and served them with onion and mustard oil. One day my husband's dad came home with two giant mangos the size of watermelons. The flesh was exactly the color that you imagine when someone says mango. It was so delicious, I ate an entire mango on my own. I also slept that summer. A lot. I later found out that mangos contain something that can make you sleepy when you eat too many of them. Looking back, that wonderful summer was like a dream. I slept that summer away, thanks to a glut of mangos.

This morning I woke up thinking about my permanent jewelry, and how each one defines me in some way:
the dreamer who loved nose rings even as a preschooler; the wife who gazes backwards; the granddaughter who misses the people she has lost; and the daughter-in-law, far away but still loving her other family. I enjoy each piece of forever jewelry, and wish you all equally empty (metaphorical!) jewelry boxes.

Friday, September 9, 2011

Who can make stuff?

While working on my teacher certification, I taught for two years in a nationwide child care chain. The turnover rate was enormous because of low pay, long hours and the fact that despite Arizona's already high child to adult ratios, the center did not always manage to have enough employees on hand to keep the classrooms 'at ratio'. But the teacher I worked with and I worked together to make our room an oasis. (As much as we could, under the circumstances.)

Although our budget for posters and craft supplies was very low, there was an abundant supply of construction paper. We used the bulletin boards to full advantage, displaying artwork, lesson plans and educational concepts. When it came time to create new displays, my friend/co-teacher would say, "You'll have to do that part. I can't do it right." But the fact is that I am not enormously skilled as an artist. My drawings look like John Lennon's scribbles. When we created a farm background to display the children's artwork, my construction paper pigs looked like pigs because they were pink and round and had a snout and a curly tail, not because they actually looked like pigs. Seriously, I believe that anyone has the skill to cut out a paper pig. But we don't all have the confidence to do it. So in a way, it was true that she couldn't do it. She couldn't. It was a crisis of confidence though, not skill.

These days, I get to teach art at my children's school. (There is no official Art Program, so parent volunteers go into the classrooms to teach scripted lessons.) The kids light up when they see the art guides walk in with our boxes of paint and paper. They love to create. And they don't worry that they 'can't' do it (well, not until fifth grade or so...) I wonder what we can do to help more people hold onto that desire to create. It's kind of sad that we get hung up on not good enough, instead of embracing the idea that this is what I can do. Why do we reject the fun of craft for fear that it is not art...or art enough?

(Speaking of which...something I can't do. Yet. I am working on a pattern for a fan art Totoro embellishment. I have made a bunch and each time the little guy improves. When I look at my first attempt now, I have to laugh. I don't know how to make this embellishment...but I am figuring it out.)

Saturday, September 3, 2011

Neo the Unicat

Meet Neo. I recently got the chance to help Neo to become a unicorn. Or unicat, I guess. You can see how happy he is about his new hat. His owner, Lisa from the bunnylog, took this awesome picture of Neo. Seriously, this picture has me daydreaming about investing in a camera slightly fancier than the $99 point and shoot camera that I usually use. I love the expression on Neo's face, part annoyance, part patience. "Alright, can you please finish with the pictures so that I can shake my head and get this thing off?"

It funny how sometimes I see a craft someplace and instantly know how to recreate it. And sometimes I see things that are a little bit harder to figure out, and that is a fun process too. This hat was found on etsy from xmoonbloom, but the shop is no longer operating so I couldn't buy the pattern. I ran a search for unicorn cat hat and didn't find anything except a whole bunch of 'borrowed' copies of xmoonbloom's picture on various blogs. But when I just looked for just plain old 'cat hats', I found a pattern and hooked it up. All I needed to do then was devise a little horn and sew it on.

I hear that Neo wore his hat for only a short while. I'm glad Lisa didn't make him wear it if he didn't want to. Making this hat really had me thinking hard about the ethics of 'playing' with cats. 

In college, one of my housemates had a kitten named Nico. That poor cat got way too much love and teasing attention from everyone in the house.  One favorite activity was placing Nico in a paper bag and watching him find his way out. Maybe I am just justifying in retrospect, but he did honestly seem to enjoy the game. We'd all sit around the living room watching him get out and then putting him back in. It was much better than watching the old TV with lousy reception and too many commercials. Nico loved the big rolls of paper that were often lying around the house (lots of Fine Arts majors). He used to climb into the paper tunnels and peek out. Occasionally someone would unroll the paper roll while he was inside, sending him tumbling. I remember one of the guys giving Nico tinfoil shoes which looked pretty cool as he walked around on the carpet, but which slipped out from underneath the poor cat when he stepped onto the linoleum kitchen floor. I wish I could say that I read my housemate the riot act, but I probably just gave a weak, "That's mean." My housemates were all much cooler than I was and I had a hard time sticking up for things like that. I will say though, that Nico didn't run away from us and hide like a lot of cats. He seemed to adore the attention and came running to us whenever there was a crowd in the front room.

Here's another picture of Neo, hanging out with Lisa's daughter (she looks so pretty and mischeivious!) He's sniffing the acorn locket I sent, perhaps thinking, "Well, I may be wearing this silly hat, but thank the lord I don't have to wear a goofy locket!"

Thanks go to Lisa for being willing to share her pictures! Check out her blog if you get a chance, or just leave a comment on this post and I'll make sure she gets the message.

Tuesday, August 30, 2011

Hankie Heaven

My youngest and I ran across an estate sale a while back and met a couple of sisters in their sixties who were selling the crochet, tatting, and embroidery work that their mother had made (along with drifts of other items). I couldn't bring myself to ask the price. If it was a dollar, that would make me sad. If it was a hundred dollars, I wouldn't buy it. But I did have a conversation with the women and mentioned that my children use handkerchiefs instead of tissues. The lady in charge disappeared into the house and came back with an ancient Kraft Caramels box filled with handkerchiefs. She sold 17 hankies, many hand embellished, to my daughter for five dollars. And then she offered her the box as a free bonus.

So here's the question. Do we use the hankies? Yes, we do. They were not doing anybody any good sitting on a shelf in the closet. And every time I wash them or see my children use them, I think of the woman who made them. (The box, on the other hand is displayed in my craft space and will be given back to my daughter when she is old enough to use it carefully.)

I am reminded of Alice Walker's short story "Everyday Use", about a woman who has to decide whether to give her family's heirloom quilts to her worldly daughter (who wants to preserve them), or to her just plain hard working daughter who is going to use the quilts. In the end, she gives the quilts to the daughter who is going to put the quilts to everyday use.

Using things in an everyday way, especially handmade items, puts us in touch with the person who made them. It is a kind of intimacy that we have mostly lost in today's world. Although items become worn with use, sometimes we become curious about how they were made, and learn to make them ourselves. If we hide these things away on shelves, they will be forgotten and the art/craft/knowledge to make them can die.

Or not. There is hope. I love that YouTube has such a stash of instructional videos about creating. You can learn how to crochet, knit, tat, lace, and sew. You can figure out how to build a fort for your kids or a backyard wood-fired oven. You can find out how to make the recipes your grandma made when you were a kid. You can also watch endless music videos and Pokemon hacks, as well as prat falls, babies babbling and 911 calls. Just saying, you know, use your video-watching time wisely.

Saturday, August 27, 2011


My little sister has always been a collector of animals. When we were young, she was the one who brought home all the strays. My mother encouraged her, and between the two of them, over the years, they have had almost every legal pet you can think of (I'm sure they'd have brought home tigers and bears if they could have). There have been dogs, cats, hermit crabs, fish and lizards, of course. But also goats, a trio of naughty raccoons whose mother was struck by a car, a miniature horse, snakes, rats, mice, guinea pigs, every kind of amphibian you can think of, from newts to tropical poison dart frogs, crickets, and (of course, you've guessed from the pictures) hedgehogs.

Now my sister is married and taking care of a whole new kind of animal--three little girls. She has slowly reduced her pet inventory over the last ten years until now she has only one lovely Bearded Dragon habitat. The dragons crack me up because two are lovely fat preening creatures, but the third was a 'runt' of sorts that was given to my sister as a free bonus with a feed purchase at the annual Reptile Show. Even with a constant supply of gut-fed crickets and meal worms, the little fellow looks like a pale yellow shadow to his tank mates.

Perhaps because of the reduction of pet inventory, or perhaps just because my nieces share their mother's love of a good collection, the stuffed animal section of the family's home is a wonder to behold. At first I was worried that this tiny hedgie might get thrown into the toy box with the larger stuffed friends, but I should have known better. He has been given a place of honor in my sister's room. I think it reminds her of the hedgehog she had in college.
The woodland creatures theme is popular right now. I have seen a lot of cool hedgehog themed stationery, rubber stamps and stuffies. This little amigurumi is my crocheted contribution to the hedge-mania.

If you have any trouble making him, feel free to send me an email or comment on the post. Some of the steps are difficult to describe and I hope I've done it clearly, but I'd welcome the opportunity to clarify if needed.

Meiphemera Amigurumi Hedgehog
(I use an H or I-hook for this.)

Using brown eyelash yarn, ch3, join
R1: 6sc into hole. (6)
R2: 2sc into each ch around (12)
R3: *sc into first ch, 2sc in next ch* total of 6x (18)
R4: *sc, sc, 2sc* total of 6x (24)
R5: *sc, sc, sc, 2sc* total of 6x (30)
R6: *sc, sc, sc, sc, 2sc* total of 6x (36)
R7: *sc, sc, sc, sc, sc, 2sc* total of 6x (42)
R8: sc around (42)
R 9-12: sc6, ch1, turn

(I use G or H hook)
chain3, join
sc 6 into hole (6)
sc into each ch around (6)
*sc, 2sc* 3x (9)
sc into each ch around (9)
*sc, sc, 2sc* 3x (12)
R 6: sc6, 2sc, sc, 2sc, 2sc, sc, 2sc (16)
R 7: sc6, 2sc, sc, 2sc, sc, 2sc, 2sc, sc, 2sc, sc, 2sc (22)
R 8: sc around (22)
R 9: sc6, *invisible decrease, sc* 5x, sc (14)
R 10-21: sc 6, ch 1, turn

Place safety eyes into the head, being sure that the tummy is at the bottom.
The sewing process is a little different than most amis because of the two different yarns and two different hook sizes. You will not be sewing each chain to the corresponding chain in the next piece. Instead, sew the pieces together as you would any other kind of fabric; line the two pieces up together and sew regardless of chain spacing.

Step 1: sew the end of the 'flap' on the back to the end of the 'flap' on the tummy. Make sure the head is in the correct orientation. The way I do it is sew from the 'wrong' side, making sure that both 'right' sides are on the inside.

((The next parts are difficult to describe with words. I've made a bunch of these guys and never had the foresight to take a picture of this part. Maybe I'll make another to take pics, but in the meantime, bear with me. Basically, you will be starting at the tail, sewing up along one side to the head, sewing the head ONTO THE BACK ITSELF, and then back down the second side to the tail. This may be obvious and intuitive. Feel free to stop reading here if you have no problem visualizing the rest on your own. )))

Step 2: The 'flap' of the back will need to be sewn to the adjacent curve of the shell, so that for the first few stitches, you will sew back fabric to back fabric. When you get to the tummy section of the flap, you will be sewing the tummy fabric to the back fabric. Keep working along the side of the hedgie until you reach the head.

Step 3: Stuff the head only. DO NOT SEW THE EDGE OF THE HEAD TO THE EDGE OF THE BACK. Position the head onto the back and sew the edge of the head through the section of the back that it touches when the head is placed in a natural position.

Step 4: Sew along the second side, back toward the tail. If you've done it just right, you'll be able to sew tummy to back, stuff the hedgie, then sew the back fabric to back fabric. If you've not done it just right, don't worry, the eyelash fabric you've created is very forgiving. Just sew along the side and stuff, lining it up as you go. Once you've finished, roll the hedgie in your hands to adjust his shape, and you're done!

Feel free to add a little necklace or head bow to your hedgie.


Sunday, August 21, 2011

Amigurumi Mouse

Mice are busy little creatures, always rushing from place to place, taking care of themselves. When I was sixteen, and in Germany, my host mother was angry with me. She told me, "Du kummerst dich immer." (Or something to the effect--all these years later, my German is worse than rusty.) I wasn't familiar with the verb, so I asked what kummern meant. And she explained that I was always going from place to place taking care of my business. Which, as an independent kid, I would have taken as a compliment if her tone didn't clearly indicate that it was NOT a good thing. She told me (complete with pantomime) I was like a little mouse, scurrying from place to place, getting things done and not asking for help.

I took it to heart, and for a while I tried to ask for help when I should.

As an adult, I know that I'm not always successful--I tend to assume people are too busy with their own lives to worry about mine, and so I just kummern mich and get what I want done, done. Or, sometimes, not done. I have had this conversation with a friend who is the same way. I've said, "But I want to do this favor for you--I know you need it." But for some of us, it is hard to admit when we need help. And to this day when I see a mouse, I am reminded to slow down.

Amigurumi Mouse Pattern:

ch3 join with slst. slst
Row 1: 6sc into center (6)
Row 2: sc, inc around (9)
Row 3: sc around (9)
Row 4: 2sc, inc around (12)
Row 5: sc around (12)
Row 6: 2sc, inc around (16)
Row 7: sc around (16)
Row 8: sc *2sc, inc* around (21)
Row 9-11: sc around (21)
Add eyes.
Row 12-end: 4sc, invisible dec-->around until closed. (Stuff mouse before closing completely.) Do not tie off. Continue by making tail.
Tail: ch 17. sc into 2nd ch from hook. sc back to body. Tie off. Weave in ends.

Ears: Begin with ch3 join with slst
Row 1: 6sc into ring (6)
Row 2: inc around (12)
Row 3: sc, inc around (18)
Tie off, leaving a long tail. Fold ear in half, then sew onto stuffed mouse.

Whiskers: Use embroidery floss to sew on whiskers. (One strand of embroidery floss=6whiskers)

My son asked me for a grey mouse with no ears and no whiskers--it looks just like a tadpole!

Saturday, August 6, 2011

Hodge Podge Inspiration Box

We are back home and back to the craziness of school and swim lessons and--with a teenage exchange student visiting us for the year--trips to the mall. I love to tell this story about my youngest, a cracking whip of a child who could spell 'hatched' and 'create' in preschool. (Not that I taught her anything.) We needed to make a trip to the mall for some reason or other, and the four year old who could define photosynthesis asked, "Mommy, what is a mall?" So with a teenager in the house and my oldest beginning to embrace the marketer-driven 'tween' stage, we have entered a new phase of life: malls, the right shoes, and blingy t-shirts. It is going to be fun!

While my oldest was off at school one day this week, I went into her room and cleaned it top to bottom--something I have been threatening to do for a few months. I swept and dusted, wiped the walls, and put in some new shelves with baskets for her felting and sewing supplies. Now everything is reorganized and boxed and easy to get to. Most importantly, now it is easy to put things away when done. In the process of cleaning,  I found some missing crafty items, a lifetime supply of pencils and many many little knick knacks. What else was there to do with them than make an Insiration Box?

I also put aside a lot of items to donate to Goodwill.

I don't want my oldest losing something next month and then accusing me of giving it away. And I, um...also don't want her to end up on one of those hoarding shows in the future saying, "It all started in fifth grade when my mom cleaned my room and threw everything away." (People who collect too much stuff usually tend to have a story like that, right? But I always wonder if it is a chicken-or-the-egg kind of issue. Do they collect because they lost everything, or did they care about and remember the loss more because of latent tendencies to collect?) The items that I had set aside for the donation box were in a huge container outside her room, so I 'gave her ownership'  by asking her to take the things and put them into bags. That way she would be able to see what she was getting rid of.  She was permitted to rescue two things to give to friends or her sibs and five things to keep, provided she found a home for them in her room. She only kept two. Whew! That was a relief to me.

The last few weeks have been a lot like this re-purposed Valentine box. You know, full of lovely treasures, but chaotic at the same time. Luckily, we still manage to squeeze in some creative projects here and there. But when we run out of ideas, an Inspiration Box like this is a great way to brainstorm. The juxtaposition of objects makes me think about things in a new way: "I love the way the vintage blue and white ribbon looks next to the chunk of turquoise. How could I use them together?"

In honor of the hodgepodge of items in the box, here are a few knick knacky paragraphs about things going around in the chaos:

  • Mad Libs periodically take over our home. My son will walk around with a pencil asking the rest of us, "Adjective? Can somebody please give me an adjective?" Out of desperation last year he taught his little sister the parts of speech. By now she is an expert and can rattle off adjectives like a pro. On the downside, she has also learned that the word 'poop' can be a noun or a verb. With a little creativity she has also figured out how to make it into an adjective (poopy), adverb (poopily) and an exclamation (Oh poop!) Her brother has been instructed to ask for more appropriate words.
  • I read to each kiddo every night. I am reading Redwall to my oldest. My youngest and I just finished the third Ga'Hoole book. My son and I finally finished the last book in the Fablehaven series and were both disappointed that the action and humor-packed series closed with a sappy romantic ending.
  • I bought a game called "My Math Trainer" for the ds. It is awesome for practicing very basic math facts. My kiddos are quite resistant to running through flash cards. This game is like flash cards, but in video game format. The single game cassette can be wi-fied to up to 16 other ds systems at a time, then provides a series of math problems while it tracks who finishes first. So the kids sit in a circle and have contests with their math facts. (I'm sure they'd prefer to play Pokemon in a heartbeat, but when they've used up their allotted video game time, I let them have some extra time for math. You know, they'll do anything to stay on those little systems. Including math.)

Saturday, June 25, 2011

Explaining My Absence

When we flew off for our long summer vacation, I made sure my camera was full of crafty photos to keep this blog busy. Spending summer here at Grandma's, we find plenty more things to take pictures of, too. We've been to the oldest aquaculture greenhouse in the US, the Westside Market and the Cleveland Asian Marketplace. But my dad's computer is from the last century (literally...1999). There is a slot for a floppy disk, but no port for sd cards, and we're so busy catching toads and dancing in the rain, that I haven't found an alternative way to download pictures. I'll return in a few weeks when we go home to Arizona. Until then, I hope you enjoy your summer!

Monday, June 6, 2011

Technology rising

Pokeball cake pops

Lots of moms will tell you that they don't allow video games because they stiffle creativity. They suck up the kids' brains and spit them out, hypnotized, several hours later. It's a stereotype, right? The moms saying no and the dads saying, "Aww, just wait till Mom leaves for the grocery store, then we'll play them together." In our house, it is the mom that encourages the video games. Here's what I like about the games: because all their friends play the same games, my kids are not clueless about pop culture icons and can have the childhood version of water cooler chat with their freinds. They learn some things from the games themselves--they enhance their reading speed and comprehension by presenting dialogue in a different form, the games the kids like to play have some puzzle solving aspects, which can be brain builders, and sometimes it's nice (for me) to have a moment of peace. 
Carrot cake!

What I don't like is chasing them off of the games when the time comes to end the play. And it does come, oh so soon. They are not allowed to play on school days, but on weekend days they get half an hour a day. (With the possibility to earn extra time during the week, which can be tacked onto the thirty minutes.)

My children love to play on them to the point of obsession. So that if my son were on his ds and you were to say, for example, "Hey, we're going to a bithday party for the Tooth Fairy and all your friends are going to be at your favorite restaurant eating pizza and magical cupcakes that make you fly!" he would just keep playing and say, "Eh, no thanks." That is what I don't like about the players.

The other day my son had already used his thirty minutes and was begging for more time. "What do I have to do to earn more ds today?"

"Well," I said, "I don't really have any extra jobs for you to do today, so you probably won't be earning any extra time. Unless you do something extraordinary, like save a baby from a burning building or something like that."

"Aww, but that's impossible!"


Half an hour later he came to me and said, "Come here, I want to show you something." He lead me into his little sister's room. The two of them had taken red construction paper and cut out paper flames, then taped them all over her loft bed. He climbed the ladder up to where she lay on her back waving her arms and legs and saying, "Goo goo, ga ga!" Then he picked her up and started to carry her 'out of the burning building.'

"Alright," I laughed, "very creative. You can have fifteen minutes."

They both cheered. As I walked back to the laundry room I heard my daughter say "You said it would count for something and you were right!"

I like the equation: thirty minutes of cooperative, creative play, and fifteen minutes of hyperactive relaxation.

Saturday, May 28, 2011

Stuffies Rock!

I love stuffies. They are quick, cool, and nearly free. And if you make them small enough, they can be made into functional art. At times I make something (like amigurumi, for instance) and think to myself, "It's cute, but what am I going to do with it?"

Little felt stuffies can be useful for anyone. I'll bet you could use the right stuffie to convert an anti-craft curmudgeon. Stuffies can be made into hair clips, brooches, refrigerator magnets, paperweights (with the right stuffing), Christmas ornaments, or even rear view mirror danglies. You know, if you are into that sort of thing. Which, um...I'm not. If I had something hanging from my rear view mirror I'd probably get distracted by it and run into a cactus. But I do like seeing danglie things sparkling in other peoples cars.

A while back I made my daughter a 1-up mushroom stuffie, hot glued it to a hair clip, and sent her off to school. She came home with a list of girls that needed their own 1-up mushroom hair clips.

This cute little bird stuffie has a pin sewn to the back so that it can be worn on a blouse or lapel. Or backpack. If you don't wear a lot of pins, here's a tip for you: string a silver chain through the pin and wear it as a necklace. (This trick also works with vintage clip-on earrings.)

I have noticed that when I receive things in the mail, the way they are packaged has some impact on how I view the items themselves. I decided to mail this stuffie pin out in a little square box from the recycling bin. The round box was $.99 at our local craft store. I painted it green, stuck on a few little metal scrap booking embellishments and filled it with some colorful notepaper that I had shredded with a pair of my kids' craft scissors. Nearly free, but a great way to improve the impact of this little stuffie pin.

Friday, May 27, 2011

Blankets for Breast Cancer

One of our Kindergarten teachers has cancer.

Teachers share more of their lives these days. They tell little anecdotes about their lives, stories about their pets, and encourage students to watch their favorite sports teams. It creates an environment where the kids trust their teachers enough to really learn from them. It is certainly a different model than learning through fear of authority--wooden ruler knuckle raps and silently threatening paddles leaning against the chalkboard. It also exposes the kids to aspects of life they might not be currently encountering at home.

And now one of the kindergarten teachers has breast cancer.

In the last five years, we've known teachers who have been pregnant during the school year, whose parents have died, who have taken time off to travel to see their college age children compete in national sports events, who have gotten divorced, who have gotten married, and who have sent their kids off to Kindergarten for the first time. And with the exception of the divorce, these events were celebrated (or mourned) openly with the students. Not in a way that took away from studying, but in a way that enhances it. One teacher gives a weekly written language correction test, and the sentences are specific to the children's lives as well as hers: "yesterday my dog goed to the vets offis", "joe is excited to selebrate his birthday nekst weak" Another teacher leads the school cheerleading team after school, and during the day she teaches her young students their most difficult spelling words by creating memorable cheers. Almost four years later, my daughter still chants A-P-P! R-E-C! I-A! T-E! each time she needs to use that word.

And now, one of the kindergarten teachers has breast cancer, and the whole school is rallying around her.

Every Friday, classes compete to see which has the most 'spirit' as evidenced by the most students wearing the school colors or PTO t-shirts. Once in a while, Friday Spirit Day is themed. On Hawaiian day, the students wear luau shirts. On Crazy Hat Day they sweat under the hats they are normally not allowed to wear. In addition to the usual assortment of spirit clothing this year, the PTO ordered pink t-shirts with breast cancer ribbons and the teacher's name printed across the front. And on the Spirit Day dedicated to the Kindergarten teacher, pink shirted boys and girls filled the playground. The principal and his assistant principal stood outside as they always do, directing traffic and manning the crosswalk. And that day, they proudly wore their bright pink shirts.

But while showing spirit in this way replenishes the spirit, teachers' salaries only go so far. And cancer can be expensive.

So this week there was fundraiser at school, and then a rally at a local fast food restaurant, organized by a couple of the room moms, and attended by nearly the whole school. The restaurant donated 20% of the receipts turned in that night. Outside, the parents had set up a raffle booth, face-painting and crafts.
My humble addition to the raffle was a baby tag blanket and a matching toddler blanket. I used a gorgeous embroidered polar fleece and shiny pink satin. (Is it really satin? Probably not, I'm not a consummate enough sewist to know what it's actually called--I'm talking about that silky shiny satiny stuff that looks like the inside of Superman's cape.)

I enjoyed making it--something straightforward, pretty, and simple enough that it didn't require a pattern. And best of all,  it helped raised money for a really great cause.

Today I got an email from one of the organizers. The little girl who won the blanket in the raffle fell asleep with it and her mother snapped a picture. Her mom says that her daughter named the blanket for the teacher and that she likes to sleep with it. I love that! Like a lot of giving, I gained a lot more than I gave with this small project.

Tuesday, May 17, 2011

Penny Passport: the socially acceptable way to collect good junk

As a young child, I resented the What Little Boys Are Made Of rhyme. "How come," I'd ask, "little boys get to be made of neat stuff like snips and snails and puppy dog tails, but little girls have to be made of dumb old sugar and spice?" Personally, I defied the stereotype. Not in any purposeful way; I was way too young for feminist politics. I just followed my interests. I hung out with the boys in the woods, where we caught salamanders and cut down saplings with contraband hatchets. We dug holes and made fishing poles out of branches and string. My pockets were always full of bits of this and that: fossils, bottle caps and acorns, small pieces of sandstone that were soft enough to use as chalk, interesting candy wrappers, rusty nails, and my pocketknife. There were also tiny twigs, twisty ties, snail shells, marbles, ribbons, wire and twine.

When I was in college, tomboy was no longer an innocuous label, and I tried to revise my antisocial behavior. But it was a process, and didn't change overnight. At that time, I lived in an apartment near the train tracks. I had no car, so I rode my bike to work, and then to class each day. I had to go over the train tracks. When I had time, and a handful of extra coins (not as often as you might think--I was on the Ramen Noodle Economic Plan), I used to park my bike and wander to the tracks. In the silent pre-dawn, the shadows were long and the rails stood out against the dark rocks. The air was so still that the metallic smell of the rails was noticeable, even on the days when the snow piled up. I would place my coins onto the smooth metal and leave them there. When I came back in the evening, the sun would be setting or have set and the pennies would have been smooshed by the passing trains. They lay glittery and bright in the rocks or the snow, waiting for me to pick them up. I kept them in my pockets as a sort of worry stone.

Nowadays, my pockets hold keys. Maybe a few receipts. Perhaps a Lego or a hair clip, just until I get a chance to put them away. But despite the possibility that I may have finally grown up, I love the smooshed pennies that you can make at touristy places like museums, zoos and amusement parks. Whenever I see a smooshing machine, I make sure to make one...or three. Logically, I can see that it is a total waste of the penny plus the fifty cents it costs to use the machine. But the sentimental part of me loves the thrill of an inexpensive souvenir. And the suppressed magpie inside still loves the shiny stuff. But smooshed pennies no longer inhabit my pockets, and you can only keep so many smooshed pennies in a little pouch before they get too jumbled to enjoy. So how can you display them?

How about a penny passport? You can buy a thick plastic penny passport at some museum gift shops, and they serve their function. But they are hard and pointy and, let's face it, they just aren't very pretty. I seem to have grown into that feminine desire for pretty things, so I wanted something larger and softer. And pretty.

A while back I posted about some tea wallets that I had made from an online tutorial. I brainstormed ways to adapt that process to a penny passport. This is the result.
     Left: Tea Wallet               Right: Penny Passport

Top: Tea Wallet     Bottom: Penny Passport

I did not take pictures during the process, but basically, I increased the length by a little more than double and replaced the tea pockets with small rectangles of vinyl sewn on in a grid. I really struggled with the vinyl, but in the end I was happy with the final product. Let me know in the comments if you would make a penny passport. If people have interest, I would be willing to attempt a tutorial, but that seems like a lot of effort to send it off into the ether if no one would use it!

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