I have made

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?

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

All lit up


It used to be that the parents were the hardest to drum up gift ideas for. Which is why ours have curio shelves and mantles stocked with miscellaneous vases and bowls and clocks and herb gardens that look great on the catalog page but, let's face it, offer very little use. Now that we've made grandparents out of the mums and pops, gift giving has gotten much easier. Step 1: get kid to draw a picture, pose for a photo, stamp his hand in paint or clay or pile of dryer lint. Step 2: frame it, if applicable. Step 3: mail it off. Do grandparents actually appreciate it? Who cares? It'd be terrible form for any grandparent to look unfavorably upon these presents. 

Here's the #1 lesson I've learned from the 2+ years that The Boy has been in the daily care of others: Parents will continue to gladly bring home the same old "art class" nonsense and stick it on the fridge as long as (1) their child made it and (2) if there has been some cursory attempt made to change it up a bit (i.e., strategically adding some squigglies so that this handprint looks like a horse instead of a fish). So here it is, grandparent gift cop-out #833: The Brownie Light Box. 


You'll need:

Battery-operated tea light (I've seen both flickering and non-flickering options -- choose wisely)

Cardboard brownie box (should be at least 1.5" deep, or enough to accommodate your particular light)

3.5" square template for the cutout (I made mine with cardboard from another box)

1/8" double sided tape

Colored artist tape (think colored masking tape, washi tape would be pretty sweet, if you can swing it)

X-acto knife


Rotary cutter or scissors


Step 1: Assemble the art

We used a thick vellum paper, because that's what we have around. A piece of acetate backed with wax paper, or white parchment would work just as well. Something nice and translucent (sunprints would also be quite nice). Hand the kid watercolors/pastels/markers/crayons/glitter/pencils and take them away before too much craziness ensues. Cut two 4" squares.


Step 2: Prepare the box

Carefully open the box and scrape off any excess glue. Lay it out flat and measure the width of the box from side crease to side crease. My box was 5.25" wide, so I marked and cut the bottom of the box off 5.25" down from the top to make it square.


Step 3: Cut the openings

On the blank side of the box, trace your template for the cutout in the middle of both of the large panels. I'm a big fan of the eyeball method, but you could, you know, measure it out for greater centered-ness. Using a straight edge and X-acto, cut out the holes.

lightbox6.jpg  lightbox7.jpg

Step 4: Affix the art

Apply the double sided tape to the printed side of the box as close to the opening as possible. Make sure not to leave any gaps, so no light peeks through once the art is attached. Remove sticky backing and attach the art, artwork side facing the hole.

lightbox8.jpg  lightbox9.jpg

Step 5: Close the box

Pre-bend the box creases, so it folds nicely with the printed side on the inside. Lay a couple strips of double sided tape on the blank side of the box tab, and, being careful not to warp or twist the box, attach the tab to the inside of opposite side. Fold in the smaller top tabs and apply one last strip of double sided tape to one of the longer top tabs. Seal it up, again making sure not to twist the box.


Step 6: Tape it up

Apply the colored tape(s) of your choice to the sides of the box, tucking the tape ends inside the box.


That's it. Turn on the tea light, plop the box on top and call it a present. I suppose you could also turn it upside down, attach string and use it in a hanging capacity. Easy peasy. You've just (1) made some kid-generated art, (2) rescued a box from the recycling bin, and (3) created something for the curio cabinet that Grandma will never be able to take down. Because what heartless grandparent would do that?


In the hole


Before my firstborn, The Boy, became my prime antagonist, he was a wee little babe. All coos and tongue waggles and sweet bubbly smiles thrown up at me as if my face hovering over his is precisely what he's been waiting for all day. Of course, look a little south and, yep, there it is, he’s got a dirty diaper. A perfectly good moment spoiled.

So, now I’m standing there with a smelly, dirty baby, face to face with that fold-down changing table, the same changing table in every public restroom, the same changing table whose years-long accumulation of grime has managed to grout the rough textured plastic. And all I have is the hokey, plasticky, little changing mat that came with our diaper bag. It doesn't take much baby-growing to get us to the point that changing his diaper on these tables means we have to make the hard choice of whether to position the pad so it protects his head or his nethers.

I don't know why the purveyors of these things, even the high-end ones, insist on making them out of plastic or vinyl or "moisture-resistant surface." I'm not looking for my baby's, ahem, waste to flow off the pad. I want something I can throw in the wash, set to the highest possible temperature and positively exterminate any trace of ickiness.

The changing pad I whipped up for The Boy was a quick-and-dirty affair.  Basically, a large mat with pockets built in for diapers and wipes and all the other the junk one carries around to tend to a baby's bottom. Damask on one side, plushy velour on the business side. It got the job done.

When I got pregnant again, my first thoughts went to how I would re-engineer the thing. This one was going to be luxe. This child, my GIRLIE, was going to ride dirty in style, dammit. In went nice cotton batting between the layers. Damask and velour were jettisoned for modern cotton prints. A simple velcro keeps it all together. Trimmed out with bias tape, the result should be very luxe, indeed.

But then I saw this online, and while it pretty much just looks like your basic messenger bag, now with more pockets, I obsessed over the built in wipes dispenser. So I stole the idea, positioned a hole in one of my pockets, and dammit if it didn't make the whole thing perfect. I tell you, when the new changing pad was all assembled, I was absolutely smitten with myself. Mr. New Media just gave me a blank, just-don't-call-her-fat look. But, months later, when he finally used it on The Girlie in the wild, even he was moved to gush over it. 

And now I can't stop making them. One for the diaper bag… check. One for the car… check. I'm thinking the shop needs one or two...


Tags: changing pad, sewing, shop

That's a mean bunny hop


My top three Halloween costume memories, in no particular order, are: 

Second grade. Catholic school. They let us dress up with the stipulation that our costumes be religiously themed. Picture a schoolyard teeming with angels, with a few sainted friars thrown in. I had one of those cheapo printed plastic sheets with matching full-face-reeks-of-polyurethane masks prevalent in the early 80s. Honestly, I don't know why there weren't more Halloween suffocation deaths reported with these things. Anyway, facing certain excommunication, I convinced Mrs. Gariano that I was a fairy godmother. I don't remember the look on her face as I pled my case, but I'm imagining something that would convey "I know you're bullshitting me, you know you're bullshitting me, but we're going to let the kid who came as the devil stay, so we're not sending you home." They gave me the bye and and the next year we could wear whatever the hell we wanted to.

Nine years old. My aunt presented me with something that was vaguely superheroic, outfitted with a spangly cape and a complex network of snaps and ties. It had perhaps been an American Flag in a previous life. I wore it, because when your aunt presents you with something, you damn well better wear it. I mean, we've all seen A Christmas Story, right? No one presented me with anything for a few more years, so I wore it again next Halloween.

Late junior high. I finally convinced my mom to get me the devil tail and cape and ears they were selling at Mervyn's. I don't actually remember wearing it.

Oh, did I say my TOP three memories? I meant my three Halloween costume memories. Period. I'm sure there's another get-up or two in there that failed to make any impression. The short of it: my kids are going to have costumes they LOVE. Now, The Girlie, of course, is far too young to have any say in the matter, so I reserved the right to outfit her in whatever costume I see fit for her body type. Garden gnome it is. Age Inappropriate, you may cry. But in such a cheek-pinchable kind of way. One year successfully avoiding Disney-branded princesshood… check.


The Boy, after months of shoulder-shrugging, finally offered that he liked bunnies. Not something I would have gone with, but acceptable, I suppose. Mr. New Media's quite the quick thinker, however, and offered up, "You mean like Peter Rabbit?" And we had ourselves a winner. One blue felt jacket with brass buttons and some carrots for the road, bunny ear hat, yarn pom pom tail, and tea-dyed/fur embedded shirt later, we've got ourselves a decent Peter Rabbit. And that smile pretty much did it for me, convinced me that yes, dammit, I WILL go through all the work again next year. Even if half the parents at his school give me the blank why-didn't-you-just-go-to-the-Disney-Store-for-a-costume stare.


Full disclosure here: None of these pictures were taken on Halloween, because Pamplona has NOTHING on trick-or-treating in our neighborhood. I've looked in the eye all the Transformers and Supermen and Caribbean Pirates and Disney Princesses Du Jour. I have no doubt that, had we taken a moment in the yard for pictures, we'd have been gobbled up by the crowds and regurgitated at the base of a tree somewhere. That and the photos would have had a backdrop of truly crappy costumes that would have taken all my mad Photoshop skilz to remediate. And I forgot to take the camera out with us when we left the house.

Tags: costumes, Halloween, kids

Potent, indeed


We’ve been living in Houston for the past  year and a half. The decade prior, we'd been in Seattle. And while Mr. New Media and I aren't native to the Northwest, it is Home to us. Texas feels just about like the polar opposite. People drive differently, talk differently, consume differently, carry themselves differently. Summer is a miserable, sweaty mess, and I have to live by the A/C, which I hate. And winter -- well, there just isn't enough of it. But today, for once, Houston is crisp and wet, smelling of trees and dirt instead of whatever it is that I normally smell here. It reminds me of Home.

And it’s put me in a mood. A good one. A creative one. Sure, sunlight may be great for taking photos without flash and seeing things without squinting. And overhead lighting sure is efficient. But I prefer my workspace to be lit by lamp. Makes it feel illuminated, in all the great senses of that word. Maybe it’s also that this weather hearkens to the holidays. And what better time for making than the holidays. 

Sometime after The Boy's birth, I decided that most, if not all of our our gifts would be handmade. Edibles and potables, mostly, but also fun knick-knackery tossed in for good measure. Something about breeding stirred in me a real desire to make something tangible for my family. I brought no heirlooms from my own childhood. My mom's single parentage left no time or money for the luxury of arts and crafts, not to mention there was absolutely no attic space or otherwise to store such things, so there was nothing TO bring from my childhood. And, yeah, it's not the stuff that matters, it's the memories, it's the traditions, blah, blah, BLAH. But that image of musty old blankets and toys and stick figure paintings brought down from attics to evoke time-sweetened sentiments of childhood… I really wanted it for my family. And, OK, maybe food and drink wasn't what you'd want pulled down from the attic 30 years later. But it seemed to me that it was a good place to start. This, I'm thinking, was the genesis of Lovelihood.

So maybe it wasn't entirely appropriate that alcohol played so prominently in that first Christmas' makings. But it was a fun, simple gift to give, and the tradition has stuck. And grown. This year's hootch: a double batch of cranberry liqueur, a double batch of coffee, single batches each of apricot and mint. The recipes are all from here, although I think in past years I pulled some recipes from a Ready-Made Christmas issue. 


That cranberry one is a crowd pleaser, totally candy-like. I've made that one every year. The coffee was my favorite from last year. It's got a touch of chocolate, and how can you go wrong with chocolate? I'm particularly excited about the apricot, or rather, those macerated dried apricot bits which will be drained out of the final product. The mint, I'm a little unsure about. The color's a bit… unpleasant. Could food coloring rescue it? Or would that just make it grosser? Or do I just package in darker bottles and hope my besotted friends don't bother pouring it out into nice little glasses before drinking? Yeah, I think that's the winner.

Anyway, yes. It's only October. I realize this. But the damn things take up to a couple months to settle in. And it's a good feeling getting these things going. Gets me in the mood for more making.

Tags: holidays, liqueurs