are about people

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.



While the rest of us brought in a new decade with popped corks and fists full of confetti, our little Girlie celebrated her exact half-year-ness, to be rung in with a scheduled doctor's visit and introduction to solid food. Well, solider, at any rate. Which means that new bibs are in order. 

The Boy, also, of course, once embarked on the whole solid food thing, and had his own set of bibs, made of the cheapest of terry cloths, purchased by the gross, and declaring such pithy gems as "Grandma loves me." But those are gone, having been sent off to Goodwill or left to the moths in some forgotten corner of the attic. So, like I said, new bibs are in order. Which is just as well, because we have some old flannel receiving blankets taking up precious dresser space in the kids' room. These dozen or so blankets have been the latest go-to in my constant house-scrounging for fabrics to re-imagine into something new and useful. It's not that I'm cheap. God help me, I'm so not that. And I do love a good trip to the fabric store to test the hand of printed cottons in modern hues. And sometimes I do bring some home to bolster an already rich supply of fabric to have on-hand. But I like the idea that these soft little blankets that once snuggled our baby boy, all asquirm with limbs that refused any ordinary swaddle, can find a home in the life of his baby sister, who even now at six months, thinks her brother is the bees knees. 

Those blankets have already had their ranks thinned in the name of a quilt for The Girlie whose progress has been slow, advancing only on those nights when (1) I want to curl up in my favorite chair and watch the ol' tellie, and (2) I don't have a crossword puzzle stumping me (because I like to work on crosswords while watching tv, which I know, seems a tad counter-productive, but it's what I do).


But now I've found a second perfect project for the flannels. I've spent a busy little week making and tweaking these bibs, from the pattern in Amy Karol's book. Now, each of those receiving blankets yielded 6 bib fronts. And the inexpensive Ikea dishtowels each yielded 4 backs. So, doing the math, I should have ended up with 12 bibs, right? A lofty enough number, to be sure, but I decided to dip back into my stash for some fabric more befitting a Girlie. So sixteen cozy little bibs now sit at the ready, eager to de-splatter the face of my now not-so-little baby.

My favorite part of these bibs? The snaps. If, instead of going with a pattern, I'd decided to just wing it and fashion up a bib-shaped thing, I probably would have gone with Velcro hook and loop closures. These metal snaps are a nice and substantial little touch. And that snappy sound is rather satisfying. And any sewing project that requires a hammer to finish is tops in my book. Here's the first lesson of the new decade. If you're trying to take advantage of the kids' naptime to get in some solid bib-making, perhaps jaw-rattling hammering that reverberates through the floorboards to where the kids are sleeping in the back of the house is not the best idea. You live and you learn.


To more complicate the endeavor, I decided to attach a pocket to the back of a few of the bibs, designed to tuck the goopy aftermath away and into the diaper bag at meals out. Sure, I could just toss a bunch of the bibs in a plastic baggie, as I did for The Boy three years ago. But what's the fun in plastic baggies? There is no fun, no fun at all, I say. I've been trying, trying, trying to purge the things from our storage repertoire because, yes, they are environmental evil. Of course they are. But also because ridding my cabinets of them means I get to craft up a new solution. But more on that later. Right now, I've got a baby to feed.

Ornamental grub


We arrived home in the early evening yesterday, worn from travel, and sick from whatever it was that The Boy was throwing up earlier in the week. Ours is the kind of neighborhood where people are ON TOP of the holidays, and as the light grew dim yesterday, we could see that the residents of our street had already decked their porches and trees with twinkly lights and stars. Even our neighbors next door, who didn't return from their Thanksgiving trip for a few hours after we did, had managed to emblazon the behemoth of a tree in their front yard. Not sure how that happened, exactly. But I'm sure it required a certain dedication to the season. And a willingness to pay other people to do things for them. At any rate, I was impressed.

So, between the shame at not having prepped the house for the upcoming holidays, and having spent a week of relative un-craftiness in the Colorado wilderness (suburbia, wilderness, same diff), I was amply inspired to get in some seasonal making. 

Step 1: Rustle up salt dough recipe

It may have looked like autumn out there today, what with the overcast sky and occasional shower, but at 77° (what gives, Houston Weather In November?) there's no way I'm turning on the oven, so I made sure my recipe was an air-dry one. I added the appropriate spices to give it a gingerbread-y aroma. I also tossed in some molasses to try to darken the dough a tad, but it didn't really work out that way. Oh well.

Step 2: Gather materials

We were given these fun little cookie cutters a few years back, but we seldom make roll-out cookies. So, we had long ago given them over to The Boy for his play dough fun. First things first, they needed to be reclaimed. Then I decided, for extra adornment, I'd make a little stamp of sorts out of my beloved metal type. I just clamped the letters together with a mini binder clip and called it good. (It's kind of nice having a name that's also a word. Makes it a little less narcissistic to put our name on things. Just a little.) Brought the toy rolling pin down from the top of the bookcase, where we'd banished it after The Boy used it as a whacking device one time too many.


Step 3: Reach really freakin' deep for my inner reserve of patience

Once the dough was mixed and kneaded into submission, I called The Boy over and we got down to business. I let him roll out small batches of the dough, as much as he had the attention span for, which is to say not much. He'd give the dough a couple passes with the rolling pin and run off to the other room where he was working on some lacing cards. Fine by me. I finished the rolling and called him back for the cookie cutter stage. Then, his favorite part — stamping the dough with the metal type. Then I added the hole that we will later string yarn through to make it an ornament. Actually, very little patience was needed, as The Boy was, for once, happy enough to take instruction. All in all, 'twas a nice, relaxing way to inaugurate the crafting season.


So, I went through the trouble to find an air-dry recipe, but several hours later the dough is pretty much still as soft as it was at inception, so I may just have to pop them in the oven. Maybe I'll wait for tomorrow, when the temperature will approach a sane level for this time of year. We'll keep some here for the tree we'll eventually get. Some will go out in Christmas packages. Maybe we'll make up another batch for teachers. I remember my childhood tree being adorned with one of these, brought home from a hard half-day spent at pre-school. I also remember licking it for the saline hit. Because that's the kind of kid I was. Hopefully, The Boy's memories of these ornaments will be so rich.


Outside in


I'm not sure if it's because I never looked at the ground in Seattle, or if it was that our sidewalk was always a smooshy, unwelcome mash of crabapple remains, but it seems to me that, by comparison, the streets and sidewalks of our particular Houston neighborhood are aflourish with pick-upable goodness. So much so, that it can occupy a good hour, taking The Boy around the block with a pail and an eye for anything that can displayed on a dish or seashell or desk or brandy glass or makeshift frame of colored popsicle sticks. 

The Boy sets his sights for flowers in purples and pinks, blue-gray bird feathers, and little red berries from a neighbor's tree ("You know these aren't for eating, right, Boy?" "That's right, Momma"). He glues them to paper or tucks them into boxes or picks out the purplest of the flowers to display in the letterpress drawer. Me, I go for the acorns and air plants. Air plants, because until now I'd never seen one in the wild, thinking they were only to be found glued to gnarly driftwood and sold for crisp Alexander Hamiltons at street fairs. The idea of freely picking up perfect specimens, pre-attached to bits of twigs and leaves, is a thrill akin to finding a Ming Dynasty vase amongst someone else's garage sale discards. And acorns because, having grown up in a rather flora-poor urban environment and then spending the last decade+ in The Evergreen State, I still maintain a cartoonish image of them, something to be wielded by high-pitched squirrels as ammunition against pesky felines. 

So yeah, I've been collecting acorns and air plants, keeping them around for the sheer novelty of it. There's also a sort of Waldorf ideal to it, keeping track of what's going on outside by bringing a piece of it inside. And even I feel these little vignettes around our home are more than a tad contrived and overthought. But they make me happy, nonetheless.


Now, shortly after I took this photo, I discovered that at least one of the acorns had been harboring maggots, thick and grubby and blindly writhing. This made me considerably less than happy, and that batch was promptly chucked. But not wanting to give up on the acorn as a whole, I decided to embark on the craft cliche that is making little acorn replicas by felting little bits of wool roving. These things are everywhere in the craft blogosphere, probably because it's a satisfying little project, fun enough to tackle with The Boy, once you accept that when you put a 3-year-old in front of a bowl of warm soapy water, messes WILL be made. All part of the fun, right? Also, when you let the 3-year-old apply the glue to the inside of the acorn caps, accept that sometimes messes will be made there, as well.


So, we managed to bring in a little bit of the outside. Score one for nature. Then we de-natured it, because I have a strong distaste for bug-life. Whatever. I'm happy with my acorns again.

Tags: acorns, air plants, felting