2012: Feb 17

Faced with a second sick day with the kids, and a sky full of rain, I put up the chalkboard wall decals that had previously sat unopened in a corner. In their first day of usage, they functioned more as energy release than conduits for artistic expression.

Five is the new four



At the store the other day, The Boy, stooped over bottles of gummy vitamins, examining each for the promise of muscle and bone fortification, was addressed as "Little Guy" by the stockperson hoping to reload the shelves with more iron supplements. Newly-five and deep in a chatty phase, one that Mr. New Media and I agree is awesome, took offense and spent the rest of the time in the store (ok, it was Target) stalking the Legos and Hot Wheels all the while plotting out how next time he'll be sure to correct the offending party. Because he's a Big Boy. 

Five years old. It's going to be a big year. Kindergarten, after-school care, a new world of playdates and organized activities. That parenting newsletter that once compared our growing fetus to various sizes of produce, and warned us of questionable sleeping habits of infants and toddlers, has promoted us to the "Big Kid Bulletin" portion of the programming. Graduation festivities at the preschool are upon us, a special lunch having been doled out last week to our beaming boy. All necessary forms and signatures have been submitted to the school district, traded-in for official school assignments and a student identification number. It's begun.

In light of all this, it's possible we may have underplayed his birthday by a half marathon. I've mentioned that May was, and always is, a crazy month, no? And the chaos and detail-fretting of entertaining a rogue army of pre-schoolers was more than my anti-social nerves could reasonably pull off. What we could handle was a bring-cake-into-class kind of celebration. A simple "Thanks for liking our kid and making his schooldays pleasant enough that he sulks when we come for him early." And a nice opportunity to spend some time with the names he prattles on about in the car on the way home from school.


So assembling a goodie bag was by no means a requirement. I mean, it never is, right? I still don't understand why, at the end of every birthday party, there's the requisite handout of trinkets. Mr. New Media explained it to me as some kind of psychological payoff, a way to ensure that everyone leaves the party on a happy note, applying that happy-go-lucky feeling that the goodie bag temporary tattoo gives you to the entire party experience. Sounds to me like the manipulative cousin to emotional warfare, which I guess is only fitting as we're entering that age range that seems a minefield of potential childhood trauma.

Whatever. For us, ok, for me, making up the goodie bags was just a good excuse to make things with The Boy. Sure there was some stress as we neared deadline. But in the meantime, there were two weeks of solid, hand-dirtying productivity. The Boy and I are never quite as happy together as when we're hunched over a project, plotting the steps for the successful completion of a thing


And so before we baked our go-to carrot cakes into jars, we cooked up a batch of play dough for another couple dozen jars. Recipes abound on the web. We dug up a basic one, doubled it, and added a truckload of color and assorted candy oils to give it a multi-sensory punch. Each of our three batches filled eight 4 oz. jars to the brim, and featured a different scent with a different non-representative color. Why is vanilla paired with green? Because that's how The Boy decreed it should be. 


A project perfect for a rainy day fidgety fingers, a common sight even in June here, rolling out felt beads from wool roving required a couple afternoons worth of attention. Dip wads of bunched-up wool into warm soapy water, and squeeze and press and smother in your pre-schooler's palm. And magically, a tight sphere-ish object emerges. When you're done, as you've been dealing with water and dish soap, the project has cleaned itself. It's just about the easiest thing in the world to make with a four-year-old. Stringing pearl embroidery floss through each ball to make a simple necklace, and attaching it to some cracker box cards, also fall into the category of unskilled labor perfect for his attention span.


The pins were slices off an old dowel sourced from the kitchen window where it lay waiting for a warm enough day that we'd need to prop up the window for some air. Pin backs, purchased for some unrealized project some time back, got the hot glue treatment. A couple layers of chalkboard paint were slathered on by a brush-happy Boy and within the hour were ready for artwork. 


So that's how I helped The Boy put together a smattering of treats for the ol' school chums over a two-week course of little sister naps. On my own, though, I took the after-hours to spirit up the bags themselves. The muslin drawstring bags are just miniature versions of the produce bags tied up with lengths of yarn. The birthday motif came together with a simple copy-and-paste of one of my sashiko designs and a few extra keystrokes and passes of the mouse to embody a birthday boy's cupcake. Ran a laser off and put the Gocco to some late-night work. Done. 

Except for the matter of handing out the goodies. Which was the best, albeit undocumented, part. I actually do feel a little bad about hijacking the afternoon school curriculum that day in the name of not going all out with a proper birthday party. But hanging out with a roomful of five-and-unders playing enthusiastically yet calmly with wads of the scented play dough we'd whipped up for them… Well, I thought it was a pretty special treat. And, hopefully, the takeaway for the kids, for our Big Boy, is that it's an awfully nice feeling when something you made can give your friends so much enjoyment.

WIPs nagging

Here, a sashiko project waiting to be pillow-ized (waiting for months now) hangs nagging at me to finish it. Read more about me at

Works n notes

Standard-issue clipboards dressed up with chalkboard paint. Read more about me at


The best part of the new space? The french doors, of course. Read more about me at

Miniature goodness


There was a time, pre-kids, pre-marriage, pre-Houston, pre-asthma, when I was a smoker. I took it up in college to satisfy a serious need for vice. That and for something to do during breaks in classes. It was never one of those buy by the carton-full, wake up thinking cigarettes, strike out in the middle of the night for a pack, kind of addictions. I kicked it pretty handily a few years later, married and having recently purchased a condo whose carpeting and poor circulation brought to the fore my apparent allergy to the cat I'd owned for four years. My lung capacity, reduced to nil, somehow dampened the appeal of the cigarette buzz, and it was an easy tradeoff to make for the promise of a wheeze-free lifestyle. 

But the accoutrements. There was the lighter, cool and scary, looking uncannily like a mini flamethrower. Even pre-9/11 I didn't dare bring it near an airport. And the cigarette case, just a simple metal tin that would hold all twenty in two neat little rows. When They talk about the glamorization of smoking, it's this stuff that they're really referring to. The lighter and case were dangerous and sexy. The cigarettes themselves… meh. So when I restructured this particular vice out of my life, the hardest part was boxing up the paraphernalia. But that's probably just my own version of addiction.

It's been a near-decade of family-building since then, and when I unboxed the cigarette case after our last move, I saw it differently. If I was struck with a sudden urge to smoke, it was only so the case could see some action again. I just had too much fondness for it to be stashed in a drawer or tossed or given away. And so, while I examined it for possible re-uses, it struck me. I had The Best Idea I've Ever Had. An eight-pack of crayons would fit perfectly in one half of the case, the other half ideal for holding little bits of discarded paper, business cards, anything one could take a crayon to. And there I had it. The perfect little on-the-go kid diversion kit.


This year, for holiday kid-gifting, I decided to bring The Best Idea I've Ever Had to the masses. I opted for Altoids-style tins over actual cigarette cases, simply because they were easier to source. However, an assortment of your typical crayons doesn't really fit into the candy tins. And putting twenty cents worth of crayons in a tin with some discarded business cards isn't much of a gift. So this is where I went a little crazy with ambition. I could mold my own crayons using one of those silicone ice cube trays. And stitch together little moleskine-y notebooks. And the wholesale tins need some kind of embellishment… chalkboard paint. Which of course needs chalk, which would also need molding. The easiest part would be cutting felt swatches for an eraser. 


The Best Idea I've Ever Had has been in progress for months. Many, many months of working in fits and starts, sometimes melting down crayons, sometimes cursing over the consistency of the chalk, sometimes scrounging for cardboard to cover the notebooks, sometimes painting and sanding and repainting the tins, sometimes being overwhelmed by the whole endeavor and pushing it aside for weeks. Enthusiasm and inspiration come and go as I take on other projects that are either more pressing or smaller in scope. But the other day, as I assembled another little batch of notebooks, I got really excited about it again. Something about lining up the notebooks, clad in cut-up cracker boxes and artist tape, finally having enough of each component to see it all together, made me think how much I would have wanted this as a kid. A compact box full of miniature goodness to be squirreled away in pockets or stored under pillows as munitions in the childish, flashlit rebellion of staying up later than you're supposed to. Who knew I could package all that in a little kit?