Sweet day


Valentine's Day, like any other holiday that requires the social skill that a comfort in one's own skin affords, was not my favorite childhood holiday. My mother, having paid tuition, and on top of that having to commit a certain amount of time and money to the mandatory fundraising required just to keep the school afloat on an annual basis, was not so keen to spend even more money on non-essentials. So she was ever reluctant to supply me with the standard pre-perforated, generically cartoony valentines, let alone the premium ones that were delivery mechanisms for Life Savers and movie marketing and other commodities that established you as the cool kid. 

There was at least one year when I was sent to the dining table with a stack of scrap paper and a Bic to scribble out my own cards. Mom used to tell me how, as a kid, she and her siblings lofted homemade kites and paraded with hand-crafted lanterns. But those stories always offered more of a when-I-was-your-age-I-had-it-rougher kind of morality than an affirmation of creative living. So, to me, showing up at school with a handful of #10 envelopes bulging with a smattering of bulk Red Hots and an awkwardly-sized chicken-scratched index card as remittance for Valentine's Day was a bit of an embarrassing endeavor. Better to show up with nothing.


This is something I realize: It's a helluva lot easier to rouse the troops to create instead of buy before they're old enough to be embarrassed by their parents' desire to do something a little different. At three and a half years, not yet clued-in to the accepted protocol of these sorts of things, The Boy is still quite excited to hand out his personalized valentines. One day he will be mortified at the idea of handing out something that doesn't advertise the latest in the Spiderman franchise. Today, he can appreciate our homemade valentine for what it is: something he painted, crayoned up and glittered, bearing his own scratched out signature, and housing home-made marshmallows, which, in his allergenic world of hive- and vomit-inducing chocolate kisses and peanut butter cups, are the Holy Grail of treats for him. These valentines are everything he loves, and he's been bubbling around the past couple days, excitedly prattling on about how he'll get to share them with his friends.

So, yeah. I'm enjoying this day. Who knows how many more I'll have like this?


Tags: The Boy, Valentines

Making pink lemonade


The Boy is in a full-coverage stage of artistic development. Given crayons or markers or paints or beads, his primary goal is for utter annihilation of any white surface. Sure, he also diligently colors within the lines when they're given, a development that at once makes me proud and sad. And there are rudimentarily representative drawings, things like happy faces and rough and tumble renderings of our little familial unit. But lay out a fresh sheet of paper, and as often as not, it becomes a full-frontal abstraction of colors and textures. Which doesn't stop us from posting much of it on walls and appliances and more walls. But abstract art isn't really my bag. 


In a twist of gender stereotypes, The Boy finds pink to be a most pleasing color. Somehow, I find this less distressing than the idea of The Girlie embracing it as her IT color. And his current medium of choice is the watercolor set we redeemed our grocery incentive program points for. The paints are in residence at the dining table, a cheap bribe to get him to sit at and partake of a meal every once in a while. So we get our fair share of washed out studies in the pastel shades known as Valentine's Day colors. Embracing the Valentininess, I slapped together a little something on the computer and whipped out the good ol' Xacto. Deciding to share the love (Get it? Love? Huh? Huh?), I've posted a handy PDF of the cut-out here. Just print onto card stock, carve out the gray parts and lay over whatever you feel is too cloyingly saccharine to take on its own… too-pink watercolors, wedding photos, dessert. Whatev. 


While I was at it, I took the computer file for that Gocco'd Love Letters card and made up a little printable PDF for that one, too. Even drew up a little envelope template, to boot. Download that goodness here. Might I suggest coaxing an appropriately cut piece of cereal box through your printer? That's what I did here. Our trusty inkjet did its share of protesting, but in the end submitted to the power of me forcing the paperboard down its gullet. So maybe you don't want to try it. I mean, I don't want to be responsible for any permanently traumatized printers out there. But I'm awfully happy with my result. So do what you will.



I tend to write long. Maybe you've noticed? In one of my all-time favorite movies, The Paper, Michael Keaton, a Metro editor for a gritty little NYC daily, and Randy Quaid, one of his writers, has this nice little exchange: 

McDougal: What's with all the grunt work? I'm a columnist. 
Henry: You're not a columnist. You're a reporter who writes long.

Indeed. Except that when I was an actual columnist I tended to write short. Seems I have much more to say about making things than I did about race. So there you go.

We've all been a little under the weather at the Lovelihood household, all wheezy and coughy and snotty and achy. Boys are absenting themselves from work and school, opting instead to contribute to the general malaise one finds when people who aren't feeling so hot are cooped up together. Crafting time has been relegated to little snippets carved out between tending to cranky children and fighting for couch time under the good throw. So today I thought I'd just show you a few of the itty bitty things I've been up to. And I'll try to keep it short. For once.


Much of my adult life has been spent amassing the the things I coveted as a kid (Easy Bake Oven, anyone?), so finding this loom on clearance was a bit of a coup. It took some convincing to get The Boy to understand that this is a Momma thing, and not a toy for him. A hard sell, seeing as how it IS a children's loom picked up from our favorite toy store. The yarn that came with it is crazy-garish and the lack of fiber information can only mean it's a synthetic. But it sits there on my table, inviting me to pass the shuttle back and forth a few times a day. I have big (read: overly-ambitious) plans to spin up some of this stuff and take it for a ride.


Unseasonably warm (even for Houston) 70° weather recently turned to chilly, drizzly grayness. Good hat weather. Thinking we'd lost The Girlie's knitted hand-me-down, and not having the time and energy to sit down with a set of double pointeds, I decided to transform a couple of rectangles of flannel and felted cable-knit sweater into an elfly bonnet of sorts. Mr. New Media was not sold on it, and we have since unearthed the lost hat from diaper bag depths, so it will be left to be seen whether this one gets any real play.


In between colds and antsy to get out of the house, I slung The Girlie on my hip and escorted The Boy around the neighborhood on his trike. We were stopped halfway down the block, trike high-centered over the sidewalk-defying roots of a big old tree, when I realized the ground was littered with wonderful little acorn tops. Leaving the trike where it was, we scurried back home for a pail to collect our harvest. I still haven't given up on my dream of creating a well-stocked army of little felted acorn minions. For now these little guys are happy enough to nestle up to the jars of notions and fabric scraps on my cabinet, occasionally acquiescing to The Boy's gentle pets.


I love the idea of little plants. Many of those novelty planting kits in potlets found in the dollar aisle at Target find their way into our home, much to Mr. New Media's dismay. I dutifully soak the peat and bury the little seeds and select a suitably sunny windowsill and even water them for a few days. And then I forget about them, and any little germinations that have managed to scraggle their way to the surface are left to wither and disintegrate back into the dirt. This little guy was supposed to sprout a headful of grassy stuff. It never happened. So I replaced the seed/dirt pouch with one of our hand-felted balls, and he now houses wayward pins and needles. I call him Pinhead, of course.


One more thing. Two of my photos, in one day last week, made their way out into the interwebs (here and here) with the help of the open Creative Commons license I apply to most of my Flickr uploads (images of the kids excluded). This tickles me to no end, mostly because as a designer at skinflint companies who didn't enjoy spending money on working chairs, let alone art, I used to scour Flickr for CC-licensed photography. There's so much great stuff on Flickr, telling compelling personal stories that you just can't find at stock photo sites. Of course, I've spent my share of money at those places, too.

OK. So that wasn't actually any shorter than any other post I've written here. But I tried. Kind of. And there are more pictures. Which actually kind of makes it even longer. So I'm not even going to try any more.

Tags: acorns, creative commons, felt, hat, loom, pinhead, yarn

See Spot put things in bags


Fridays are fine and dandy, with the combined promise of family outings and the opportunity to slough the children off on the normally-working parent. But Mondays are what I've come to crave. Send the husband off to his new media, The Boy to the half-day of play and controlled chaos known as pre-school, The Girlie to hours-long morning naps in a house hushed by the absence of the boys and their games, and I settle in to some gritty craftwork, burning off the energy from a freshly-downed cup of overly sweetened coffee.

The big sanity-saver in my work-at-home-ness, and now just plain old stay-at-home-ness has been the daily shipment of The Boy off-site. I get in some quality time doing what I do without worrying about his little helper hands flying too close to the needle or unravelling yarn around the house, ending with a leader down the toilet. For his part, he gets to run around with a roomful of kids his own age, energy level and wonky vocabulary. The school offers breakfasts of cereals (plain and marshmallow-tastic) with milk and fruit, snacks of butter crackers and jams, and lunches that Ronald Reagan would be proud of. Things like mac & cheese and spoon-soft carrots and corndog bites and syrupy fruit concoctions. Not, you know, the world's most nutritious menu, but there's a certain mass-produced well-roundedness to it. And I would happily submit our son to these meals. Except that he can't eat most of it. The Boy is allergic to dairy and eggs and the dreaded tree-nuts. Not in any kind of anaphylactic way, thankfully, but giving him seriously miserable reactions nonetheless. Think hives-on-contact and full-day throw-up sessions.

So The Boy is, and perhaps always will be, one of those lame kids relegated to the lunchroom table populated by those with special food needs, the ones who must carry in their own provisions from home. His lunch box is large and hefty, the size of, if not bigger than, that big black plastic one that fit a full-sized thermos my engineer father used to haul to work every day. It's packed with bagels and sausage and soy yogurt and rice milk and juice and graham crackers and fruit and fruit leather and fruit that's been freeze dried and fruit that's been dehydrated and sandwiches and leftovers from last night's dinner and sometimes a half-cob of corn. And until fairly recently, a lot of that food was bundled in paper towels and plastic baggies, to be discarded after the food was transferred to a plate for consumption.


A few months ago, when I first started packing The Boy's lunch bag with reusable cloth baggies, there was some confusion at school. Apparently, the blue spotted canvas that I whipped them up with resembled those chemical ice packs people toss into coolers. They did the trick, though, keeping little bunny graham crackers fresh overnight. If there was a juice leak, however, things could get pretty soggy pretty fast. And any crackers that stayed in there for more than a day would lose their crunch and be wasted to the garbage disposal. So a different solution was in order. 

Last fall I did some extensive testing to figure out the best way to package marshmallows for holiday gifting. I've used several methods over the years, with varied results in aesthetics and freshness. So in my test of form and function I cooked up a batch of marshmallows just to try out different packaging media. I pretty much knew I wanted to stitch up paper packages, but what kind of paper? I auditioned natural parchment, white parchment, and freezer paper, each in a straight stitching and a zig zag. For a control, I tossed a marshmallow in a sealed plastic baggie, and for kicks I tossed another one in an open baggie.


After a day, it was clear that the parchment options were no good. The marshmallows therein were crusty and tough. The ones in the freezer paper, with its plastic coating, fared much better. While losing their fluffy softness gradually, their degradation seemed to taper off, leaving it in a constant state of pretty-darn-goodness. The surprise result, though, was that there was very little difference between the marshmallow in the sealed baggie and the one in the open one. It seemed that just having that layer of plastic next to it kept it fresh and perky. All test subjects, so you know, regardless of their level of staleness, were consumed. The Boy was more than happy to oblige me during these trials.

Anyway, the take-away from this research was that, while I wouldn't be able to achieve a complete seal on my snack baggies, adding a layer of plastic to the mix would greatly increase their fresh-keeping qualities. Laminated cottons and their seeming food-safeness (nothing official with FDA approval, but what's that worth anyway?) fit the bill nicely. The official line is that you can't throw it in the washer, but I found this helpful primer on handling the material in which the author pushes the surface-clean-only envelope (I am always down with that). So I bought a couple yards off the only bolt of laminated cotton I could find locally, and made up these. 


Now, sewing with plastic poses two theoretical challenges. The first is that it tends to stick to a sewing machine's feed plate and presser foot. Or so I've heard. I found that if I just pulled on the freshly seamed fabric toward the back of the machine with constant and ever-so-slight pressure, it fed through quite smoothly. I have a teflon presser foot just for this type of situation, but who wants to take the time to change out feet? Challenge number two is that you can't pin it without it leaving a visible and permanent hole. Which actually isn't a problem at all. For I hate pinning. There's no greater crafty killjoy than halting creative momentum to temporarily attach pieces of fabric together in preparation to permanently attach pieces of fabric together. I live with the resulting sloppiness and consider it a fair trade. You could say, on this matter, I'm a sewing imperfectionist. Whatever.

The baggies came together quite nicely. Usually I get all turned around and sew one piece with the wrong side out, or attach the velcro to the outside where it should have been on the inside or have an unfinished edge showing where it should have been tucked away in the lining. With velcro I don't have to remember to keep it open for the final stitching before turning it right side out. I always seem to forget with zippered projects, which leaves me with the logistical nightmare of trying to figure out how to shimmy a zipper open from the inside, a handy trick to know, I suppose, if I'm ever stuck inside one of those body bags (do they make those things with a double sided zipper that you can open from the inside? They totally should).

Anyway, I'm happy to report that The Boy's school seems to be on board with the whole reusable baggie situation now.

A new kind of heart


You wouldn't know it to look at this website, but I have a serious aversion to hearts. Hearts on jewelry? Definitely not my bag. Hearts on clothes? I'll take the plain black tee, please.  Candies in heart-shaped boxes? Well, maybe if it's chocolate. Heart shaped key fobs and purses and barrettes and fabric of any sort and tins and wall stickies… Yeah, you can just take that back to Claire's where you found it and leave me alone in my eggshell-minimal, Lucite-furnished room. Actually, I have no aspirations to minimalism, but given the choice between that route and the one where I'd have to accessorize with pink-on-pink appliqued heart-y pillows, the choice is starkly clear.

Which is all quite unfortunate, because the heart is actually a pretty pleasing shape, graphically speaking. Nice curves and points, symmetrical if you want it to be, but pliable and versatile, lending itself well to patterns and repeats. It's just that the tween set, and those marketing to them, have dominated the image for so long that it's impossible, now, to envision a world where a heart could be any color other than pink or red or red-pink.

And, of course, with a name like mine, run-ins with this image are inevitable and call for a certain amount of acceptance. Embrace, even. Because when you have a name that can easily be symbolized, that can be a pretty powerful thing. I mean, just think of all the slogan possibilities. Like all those people named Getz who can advertise that they "Getz resultz." (Yeah, I know that was improper grammar, but the letter z also can't be used to indicate plurality, so I'm going to take some leeway on this point). I can't think of any good slogans off-hand involving "love" or hearts, but if I was privy to the glamorous world of advertising copywriters, I'd be sure to make a killing. 


I say, with or without Madison Avenue, it's time we reclaimed the heart from those who would wear pink nail polish. High school cheerleaders across the nation will just have to find something else to dot their "i"s. So I unveil to you, today, Love Letters, fresh off the Gocco. The majority of my screen printing time seems to happen in the evening hours, after the kids have been ensconced in quilts and blankets and worms that glow. It's the largest chunk of time I have to do my own thing without a wee one nuzzling up against my leg ready to play. You can view moodily-lit pictures of my Gocco process here, if you're interested. Everything about the Gocco is lovely, except the fact that it's no longer produced, and supplies are, therefore, pricey and hard to come by. I stockpiled screens and screen-burning bulbs last year, and now I'm trying to ride it out, biding my time before someone takes up the good Gocco cause and re-establishes production. Because it will happen, right?


Cereal boxes had, again, begun to stack up in the corner, so another card was in order. And with letterpress on the brain and a hankering to get back into some sort of graphic designery, I dreamt up this one, in turquoise and orange, for the shop. Feeling a little stingy with the supplies, I almost did this one up in just one color, because the registration on the letters is a little too tight to press two colors side by side. But I'm glad I went with the second screen. It gives the card a nice little burst of orange. Because everything is better with orange. So there you have it. A new kind of heart. Cool blue and typographic with nary a hint of Comic Sans. 


Odds and ends


After all the gift basket-making and bib-snapping and napkin hemming, I've been jonesing to make a little something for myself. And, after having sat through all the gift basket-making and bib-snapping and napkin hemming, my workhorse office chair was in dire need of repair. Making new cushion covers had been on my list for a while, but after the past few months of supporting my rear, they were little more than worn out pieces of foam draped in the standard Ikea tatters. Tatters embedded with stamp ink and bits of confetti and late-night chocolate and milk spit up while I was trying to squeeze in some work while nursing.  

I picked out a fabric in a nice, cool gray. And because (1) every cushion deserves a cute little trim, and (2) I have a genuine disdain for pre-packaged piping, all stiff and monotone and blah, I whipped up my own piping, using an old stash-bolstering fat quarter and chunky yarn left over from my years-ago first ever knitting project (a hat and scarf who have been retired to the attic until we again reside in a place where such things as woolen scarves and hats are necessary. Today, deep in the throes of January, Houston mercury is scheduled to hit 70°). Bulky as the yarn was to knit with, it makes for a buttery soft and pliable piping, easily turning those corners and yielding to my worn out machine needle.


Mr. New Media declared that the gray fabric was nice, but that the trim was too girly. Nothing wrong with that, I say. I've spent many years hiding under khakis and sweater vests and gender-neutral tees. I'm ready for some girly in my life. And if it's not pink, then I can handle it.


Speaking of girly, I've been wearing more dresses lately. The past year and a half of working from home, then too pregnant and unmotivated to wear anything flattering, I pretty much lived in jeans and ironically adorned tees. Entirely practical and weather-appropriate and rather dull. Now, I'm itching for a little more flair. There's some woman out there on the interwebs whose mission this year is to wear only things she has made herself. A laudable goal, but one entirely out of my skill level. I've never sewn anything I deem wearable. I've made several attempts. Nothing passes muster, and I resign myself to only sewing goods for the home for the next few months until the frustration fades away enough to try again. I've forgotten the angst now, and I'm thinking about digging into this pattern. I'm liking the shirt dress/tunic look, sometimes paired with jeans, sometimes with tights. I also like pockets, which this pattern does not have. I'll definitely need to tuck a couple into the seams. I've decided that all skirts and dresses should sport pockets. We'll see. I'm still mulling this one over, working up the nerve to cut into some fabric. Maybe some Japanese-y linen print.


I've been feeling a bit of guilt this week over not being moved to strong emotion or action over the tragedy in Haiti. Five years ago, hearing of the Indonesian tsunami, and fueled by pregnancy hormones, I remember being moved to tears in the car on the way to work. And even from Seattle, Hurricane Katrina's destruction in New Orleans left me shaken. I think it's that I'm not working in an office these days, not regularly with and around people other than my family, that makes it harder for me to emotionally connect to what's going on in the world. So what did I do? I bought something for myself.

Craft Hope for Haiti Shop Spreading seeds of hope one stitch at a time

The Craft Hope shop on Etsy has lots of lovely things for sale, with all proceeds going to Doctors Without Borders in Haiti. Or you could, you know, just make a direct contribution.

Orange is the new green


I'm not one for making annual resolutions. My big life-changing movements tend to be more impulsive, a catalytic reaction of pent-up angst and self-righteousness. Like the evening I sat down to my mom's meal of beef stew and decided I would no longer be eating meat. Or when I threw out an empty box of Camel Lights and decided not to buy another. Or the day I woke up and decided to get an oil change, leave school and drive halfway across the country and be with my future husband. The ringing in of a new year hardly qualifies as impetus, so it's generally not when I suit up for any kind of change.

But I do sense a theme for the upcoming months. And it looks awfully green. Now, as an old print hack, this is a little difficult to resolve. Years ago, when someone suggested that the internet would kill print news, I scoffed at the idea, citing how much people like the tactile experience of reading the paper. I didn't realize that it was just me. I like the feel and smell of newsprint. I like paper. I like things on paper. I like making things on paper. I shop for it and stash it away and dog-ear corners and flip through pages and fold it and mark it up with ink. I carry around notebooks in all manner of sizes, some quad-lined, some unruled, some with bright covers, others with plain kraft paper. And then there's the paper we wipe our faces with and use to soften our clothes and wrap gifts and toss after emptying it of cereal. And that's just paper. It's rather exhausting and daunting just to think about reversing the role of waste and what consumer convenience has brought to my life. Which is why, I suppose, we spend so much time politicizing and bitching over Al Gore's carbon footprint instead of actually taking action.

A few weeks ago, I jettisoned my paper to-do list for this online one. A teeny tiny step, to be sure, but much of my life can be sussed out in the lists I have made since, as a wee girl, I first picked up a pencil to itemize the things in my world. So this is no insignificant change. I love this app, by the way. I've been using it as a combined daily taskmaster and crafty wish list of sorts. Editable and accessible and forgiving and superior to my paper list in many other ways. My anal retentive app-crush aside, what I've noticed about this list is how much it's dominated by things I want to make to render consumer goods obsolete in my home. Or to repair and refashion instead of replace. Like making more snack bags to replace the plastic baggies in The Boy's lunch. Or sacks to bring produce home from the store. Or reusable woolen balls instead of softener sheets to toss in the dryer. 

This all reminds me of a college friend who, with her roommate, would reuse plastic produce bags (a fairly normal practice at our liberal and liberal arts hippie school). She had some on the counter, washed out and air-drying, when her sister came to visit. The sister promptly returned home and reported to their parents that my friend was living like a savage.


Cloth napkins, though, hardly speak of savagery, and have long been on my list of things to make. In my post-holiday, in-between-projects, puttering-around-the-house malaise, I endeavored to clean and oil the sewing machine, something I've never done in the half-decade that I've owned it. Apparently, I've never taken a close look at the assortment of doodads and presser feet that occupy its accessory compartment, either, because when I pulled out the rolled hem foot, I had absolutely no idea what it was or how to use it. But judging by its description in the manual, I deemed it the perfect tool for the long elusive napkin project. 

For the fabric, I used the last of a pair of twin-sized duvet covers purchased from Ikea a few years back and previously cut up for other projects around the house. It's weave is loose, a little gauzy, very orange, perfect for napkins. All cut up, it yielded 31 squares (the fabric stash gods work in mysterious ways), plus some small scraps for some other use.


So, no more paper napkins for us. These cloth ones have supplanted their paper counterparts in the table dispenser. They're plentiful and washable and casual enough for everyday use. And cloth napkins, even slightly soiled with a baby's avocado and rice cereal mash, just seem so elegant on the dining table. But maybe a little less so on the floor where the she threw it after having gnawed on a corner between spoonfuls.