January 25, 2015

Prague in the 80's

Am I still extremely slowly scanning my grandfather's slides, you ask? Why yes, I am. I definitely thought this would be a one month project, but like with every other thing I have ever done, I was clearly way underestimating the timing. Still, little chunk of slides has revealed surprising treasure. Last week, I started scanning a set of slides labeled "Travels in Czechoslovakia" from 1986.

I don't know where these places are, and my brief attempt to Google has led basically nowhere.

But now I am having daydreams of going to Prague, finding these buildings, and taking updates photos to match.

Looking at these, I can almost exactly see my grandfather setting up these shots, adjusting his camera, choosing his frame. It's like a Proustian madeleine, and all my memories of him come flooding back.

January 24, 2015

How Do You Say "The Borrowers" in Spanish?

In a perfectly time bit of coincidence, just as we have been reading The Borrowers at home, Lara got an assignment to build a tiny house out of recycled materials for Spanish class (the Spanish element is that each element of this little house had to be labeled en espagnol). Increasing the serendipity? A long, looooooong, 4 day weekend - just about perfect for spending a day cobbling together little odds and ends around the house into furniture.


Check out the horrifying dystopia of this universe: the TV says "Latest News" with a picture of robots with guns on their head shooting at each other:

My favorite thing is the super tiny composition book Lara made for the desk and the wire pen lying next to it:

(To get a sense of the size - the table and chair legs are made out of straws)

January 23, 2015

The Darling Buds of... January?

So, much like the summer whose lease hath all too short a date, our office chairs have recently also fallen way out of bloom. What started as a fresh, bright upholstery job of chartreuse leaves on a crisp white background, after 8 or years turned into a brown faded mess riddled with holes. I mean, seriously - this is not cool:

So it was staple gun, screw driver (for prying mostly), and most importantly fun new fabric to the rescue!

Of course I now realize I failed to capture this in photographic form, but I do love how the graphic black and white really complements the pattern of the radiator cover in this room (you can see a bit of it in the "before" picture).

December 26, 2014

Lego Bag for the Boy

From Lara to Jake: a bag embroidered with a bunch of Jake's favorite things... Legos!

There was a small assist from me on the bag construction front (check out the fun grommets and carabiner that make the strap adjustable):

Lara worked for weeks on this amazing embroidery - everything from design to execution is totally hers:

December 25, 2014

Eggplant and Pears

Sadly, my semester is over. Hopefully I will get to take another class soon! I won't post my many nudes here, but here are a couple of homework assignments from the past few months:

December 11, 2014

Shark Bait

The holiday season is here yet again, which as always means... making lovely things for other people!

This year, for Jake - a scarf with some bite to it:

I used super soft fleece for the body and some felt pieces for the face. Looking sharp, no?

November 22, 2014

Jakey's Bee Book

Everyone is having a great fall.
Just wanted to share something pretty fun from Jake's class. His amazing kindergarten teachers are pretty inspiring, and they had a whole unit on bees, including visiting beekeepers, studying hives, learning about bee anatomy, etc. The kids got really into it, and Jake absolutely loved it. As the final part of the project, the kids were supposed to write something about bees; Jake make a whole bee book! The book is such a hit that his teachers (and, of course, us as well) quote it - check it out (with accompanying translation, as he totally did this on his own, and so things are spelled as he imagines they should be):
How Bees Make Honey, by Jake

Honey is good. Bees are very good at work but they are not the only pollenators - Bats, Birds!

If you are making honey right now, you are a bee! Cocoons - these might make you surprised when you hear about these things

Bees: honey bees are the only (things) that could make honey; but where does honey come from? Flowers!

Honey: Why is honey good for us? Because it helps our brain!

Jake also made this fun little stop motion of a bee getting pollen from a flower and taking it back to its hive (via the awesome app, StopMotion)

He also has a hilarious, many-minutes-long "lecture" explaining Bee anatomy, and demonstrating how bees communicate with dancing. It's hilarious.

October 28, 2014

Art Class

For the past few months, I've been taking a figure drawing and painting class at PAFA on Tuesday mornings*. It has been so, so, SO wonderful to pick up charcoal and paintbrushes again! The class is taught by Doug Martenson, whose approach is so relaxed and helpful and kindly insightful, that the studio is a total joy. Also a joy? The fact that we are getting all Degas up in there, complete with a trip to the ballet studio and a couple of modeling sessions with one of the ballerinas. I've been loving every second of it.

Black and white charcoal on toned paper:



(finished work)

So far so good, I think, although I clearly need to fit the figure better to the surface... Next time.

* Can I just say that it is wonderful that someone offers continuing ed classes during the day? It would basically be impossible for me to take a evening class. And there are at least two other freelancer or stay at home moms in the class, rocking their brushwork, so I know there are many of us in this boat.

October 26, 2014

Jack Pumpkinhead

Yesterday was a glorious day - one of those breezy, sunny fall days when the sun is still warm enough to satisfyingly heat up the back of your jacket and pants if you stand in one spot long enough.

We made the best of it by going pumpkin picking at Terhune Orchards, which I love for its just-right level of crowdedness. Not so empty that you feel like you're bothering actual working farmers, but not so mobbed that it is basically an outdoor supermarket. Sure, they throw in things like a giant corn maze -

But while you're making your way through, they also ask you to collect the ears of corn for animal feed.

I suspect that the pumpkin patch is really more of a pumpkin drop-off area, since there are not too many actual vines there, but there is nothing like the feeling of lugging a bunch of those bad boys around purposefully on a wagon.

So what did we make out of these?

This morning, we took turns designing, cutting, carving, and shaping, to end up with a motley crew of monsters and victims. Strong plug here for linoleum carving tools for edging the finicky details! Check out the sunlight coming through that chomping one in the back! I don't think the puny light that lights them up at night is going to be nearly as awesome.

Can you guess which one is Jake's and which is Lara's? It's very hard to figure it out...

October 24, 2014

Two Lofts are Better than One

I finally got around to taking pictures of the kids' double loft room! They've been enjoying it for 2 months or so now, long enough for the discussion to segue into the separate rooms conundrum. But still, right now, here is what it looks like:

We went with the cool color scheme the kids had worked out (you can see it in the initial plans we talked about here), with Lara getting a purple square and Jake getting a blue one. How did I work out "squares" when neither the walls nor the ceiling in that room are at all plumb? Through a lot of eyeballing, basically. I found that lining things up with the windows made more visual sense than lining them up with the ceiling and walls, and then I fudged a half inch over several feet here and there to make everything connect without too much obvious distortion.

Lara's new loft bed came with the desk and shelves as one unit, but Jake's loft didn't have any built-in storage. So, I whipped up a matching set of square shelves by surrounding a cheapie Kraftmaid cabinet that happened to have almost the exact right dimensions with some lumber. With some stain and matte polyurethane, you honestly would never know that it wasn't part of that bed originally:

Also, look - fairy lights under each loft! For some reason I have been obsessed with having these things around a bed since childhood. I remember really wanting to have twinkle light around my bed even in high school. Why on earth did I not make this rather easily attainable dream come true until now (for someone else!)? No idea. I remember vaguely worrying that they were too frivolous or something. Basically, apparently I was a very silly person.

October 22, 2014

Do You Believe in Magic?

If yes, then this rainbow wizard has a few things to show you about ice powers! A blast from his ice lighting bolt? Zap! A glowing spell from the ice orb on his staff? Whoosh!

If no, then this illusionist magician will be more to your liking! Behold as she conjures coins from behind ears, flowers from seemingly ordinary magic wands, and cards out of thin air. Marvelous!

I have to say I was very tickled that the kids picked these very complimentary, two-sides-of-the-same-coin style costumes. I did have the good sense to ask them to draw what they were envisioning before getting out my sewing machine. Why good sense? Because my idea of a wizard is Gandalf as portrayed by the delightful Sir Ian McKellen. Jake however, was imagining a rainbow-colored cape and hat, a prickly staff, and a lightning bolt:

What are the odds that the next day after he drew this I would find a plastic light up lightning bolt in the Target dollar bin? Apparently excellent, because that is exactly what happened. And of course when I showed it to Jake, he was entirely unsurprised. Why wouldn't every whim of his imagination be easily and readily available at any given moment?

Lara's more worldly understanding of magicians and their craft is evidenced by this drawing, a nice and sober companion to Jake's fever dream (I wouldn't be surprised if he half-expected that moon and stars to be a constant part of his costume backdrop):

I originally just bought a top hat from a costume store, but it was deemed insufficiently tall. Amazingly enough, I found some swirly felt that almost exactly matched the material for the cape! Again, what are the odds? These costumes were clearly fated to be by the Halloween gods. Here you can see her magic trick: a disappearing feather flower: perfect because it is very easy to perform and to carry around.

October 9, 2014

And a Hug Around the Neck

Do you ever suddenly feel jewelry-deprived? It's pretty high up there on the list of first world problems, I know, but still, sometimes it's nice to have empty neck syndrome be your biggest challenge in life. My solution? Just make some new stuff!

We found this beautiful piece of driftwood in California last year. What made all those whorls and perfectly rounded burrows? Some kind of insect? No idea. I took the world's tiniest drill and super-carefully made two holes and then added some tumbled turquoise chunks to balance the matte rawness of the wood. I love that it's huge but also weighs nothing.

I also took a few larger beads from my grandma Janna's very long strand of semi-polished amber and just added a piece of translucent smokey glass for balance and to pick up some of those great veined inclusions on the biggest amber bead.

Phew. Neck decoration crisis averted.

October 8, 2014

OOooOOooOO ~~ Spook-tacular De-gore-ations! ~~ OOooOOooOO

As wisps of its decaying burial shroud frayed around it, the long silent skeleton suddenly felt itself jerking awake with an almost electric jolt. Gray bone fingers clawed their way through the roots of the dying vegetation that covered its grave, obeying an inescapable desire - no, command - to rise and once more roam the world of the living...

Nearby, in another windswept corner of the abandoned cemetery someone, or something, clad in all black hastily made a quick escape, leaving behind a blood-spattered severed hand as the grisly evidence of a misbegotten act. A shallow grave for a dismembered enemy? The remains of a diabolical meal?

Spinning wildly in all directions, the lidless, spider-wracked eyes of the cemetery guardian took in these scenes and still other, more disturbing ones. A mute witness, it served its time until the curse of its existence could be broken...

September 4, 2014


One of the Lara's summer assignments was a totally open-ended book project, which at first sounded sort of overwhelming but then turned into a really fun way to pass some time together downstairs in the art room. The result? A huge and awesome multimedia diorama of a scene from Roald Dahl's "The Big Friendly Giant".

The sky is made of squares of paper died with food coloring (Lara's genius solution to the fact that we forgot to get anything blue at the craft store), the clouds are paper and pom pom balls, the ground is felt with some paper houses, the giants are Sculpey clay, the helicopters and chains are store-bought.

She made pretty much everything, with some mild parental assistance for the tiny details on the giants' faces and general "let's everyone glue these blue squares of paper down because three people will do it faster than 1".

I wish I could see her presenting it to the class!

August 12, 2014

How to Fix a Shoe Elastic!

Well, looks like someone around here has been super fired up by her previous cobbling success - so much so that I've decided to double down and try my hand at a different kind of shoe repair. And so, may I present to you the worn out elastic hall of shame, in which sad, broken down strands of what was ostensibly formerly a piece of stretchy material are now just desperately clinging to the buckles of a pair of sandals:

The trusty tools are much the same as last time (seam ripper, curved needle, waxed thread), with the addition of a piece of elastic of matching color and width (long enough for both shoes). Missing from this picture is tacky glue and a binder clip, both of which are necessary, but both of which somehow missed the mandatory photo shoot. Late night out with the hot glue gun, I guess.

The first thing to do is very carefully seam rip the stitches that keep the elastic sandwiched between the layers of leather. I tried to cut as little thread as I could - just enough to ease the elastic out. The elastic appears to have been glued as well as stitched into place, which is probably why it was still somewhat attached to the shoe strap.

Fold your replacement elastic in half, and then cut it to be just slightly shorter than the old stretched out one. You don't want it too loose - instead, you want the stretch to engage a little bit when you have the shoe on.

The next thing is sort of jazzy and improvisational (or at least I couldn't figure out any sort of methodical approach to doing this). Slip the bar of the buckle through the middle of the new elastic, trying not to break any of the threads or rubber by kind of just pushing them all apart and shoving the bar in between.

Now it's time to re-assemble the thing. Get out your favorite fabric glue (I like Tacky Glue for its... well... tackiness) and smoosh a bead on the inside of the leather. If the leather is the bread of the leather-and-elastic sandwich, then the glue is the mayo that holds it all together.

Slide the elastic into place and clamp the whole thing closed with a large binder clip, or something similar. The key is to position it so that you can still access some of the seam, because that's what you're about to start working on.

Tuck the thread knot into the sandwich and start sewing along the side that you've left out of the clip. The easiest thing to do is just use the same holes that the old stitches used. Make sure, as you sew, to push the needle through not just the leather "bread", but also through the elastic. That way it'll really be anchored in there. As you go, keep repositioning the binder clip until you don't need it any more.

And voila! You are done. Now fix up the other shoe to match, and you are off to the races!