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!

August 7, 2014

Big Changes

Well, it looks like the time of bunk beds has come to an end. Or rather, the time of someone sleeping in a lower bunk bed is pretty much over... because the kids are getting loft beds! This will call for a total shakeup of their room, and they are so excitedly on board with the whole "we get our own desks and don't have to share!" phenomenon.

Right now their room looks like this. And I mean, literally right now - that's right, I didn't even feel like picking the stuffed animals up off the floor (or initiating a battle to get them to do it...) before taking this picture:

But in the future, we will create an oasis of awesomeness that right now can only be suggested by my wham-bam Photoshop skills. After adding a loft bed with a built in desk for Lara, and taking the bottom bunk off the existing loft bed for Jake, we will basically be splitting their room in half visually. To add some flair, Jake wants his area to be blue and Lara opted for hers to be purple. The question then remains: what color should the rest of the walls be?



Or taupe/beige?

Right now, our money is on this nice warm gray, which I'm sure will be extremely easy to find, since from everything I hear, all gray paint is super cooperative and looks just like you would expect it to. What do you think?

July 29, 2014

How To Fix a Shoe Buckle!

So let's say you have a favorite pair of shoes. Like, hands down, the shoes you wear every day because they are super comfortable to walk in, and you can ride your bike in them, and they look pretty good too. And then, let's say, one day one of the buckles on a shoe strap just snaps in half. Out of nowhere, just breaks into pieces.

You probably say to yourself, "Well, I'm sure a cobbler could fix this," and you go to your local shoe repair place. But then, let's say, the cobbler shows you buckles that are both the wrong size and color (the only ones he has!) and also expects $30 for the privilege of uglifying your favorite shoes. Do you give up? No, of course you don't give up. Instead, in what you think is a brilliant move, you call the shoe manufacturer... but to no avail, because they don't stock replacement hardware. This is probably the moment that you decide to take matters into your own hands.

After a careful Etsy search, you find someone who makes almost identical buckles to the ones on your shoes. "Hooray for independent small business craftspeople!" you probably exclaim to yourself, as you ready your tools: the new buckle, some waxed thread, a seam ripper, and a curved needle.

Your first job is to pick apart just the bit of the seam that holds closed the loop of leather that would usually attach to the center of the buckle. In this picture, it's the darker leather piece (you can see the hole that the buckle's prong goes through).

Once that's done, you thread the new buckle onto the now open loop, making sure to put it facing the right way.

Now it's time for the finicky part - stitching the loop closed again. The advice for leather is just to reuse the old stitch holes. After tying a knot at the end of your waxed thread, you start a little bit before the first seam-ripped stitch, going over old still-in-place stitches to secure them. You try your best to sandwich the knot between the layers of leather.

Slowly, slowly, you keep going from hole to hole and then double back over again. If your thread happens not to match perfectly because apparently your laptop's screen colors are not true to life, and you bought your thread online - well, it's no big deal because the new stitches will be hidden once the buckle is buckled anyway.

After the last stitch is in place, you tie a small knot on the side and then slip your curved needle through the layers of leather to the other side. This will both pull your knot in between the layers of leather so it's not poking your toes, and will make it more stable.

And, just like that, you have defeated the forces of evil shoe destruction and have emerged triumphant with your favorite shoes intact! Winner, winner - chicken dinner.

(The fixed shoe is on the left.)

July 17, 2014

My Grandfather's Eye

My mother's dad, Boris, was an avid amateur photographer. Family lore is rife with stories of him checking the light meter and slowly adjusting the focus on the giant lens attached to his equally giant camera as we, posed and poised, started shuffling impatiently. I loved the cozy and alien feel of the tiny red-lit darkroom that he had set up in a closet in my grandparents' apartment, with its semi-mysterious trays of developing solution, floating upside-down images, and drying black and white photographs hanging from a clothesline. I never wanted to do it myself, but I loved watching him.

Many of his shots were turned into slides. Actually, the division was straightforward: black and white film became photographs and color film was developed into slides. It may have something to do with the availability of the necessary equipment in Russia in the 80's? In any case, I have recently started the long project of digitizing the slides. As expected, there are many fantastic pictures of our family. But a surprising delight has been seeing the more artistic photos that Borechka would sneak in here and there - landscapes, street photography, bits of nature that caught his eye. Here are a few of my favorites:

And what did I look like 30 years ago? Check out those 4 inch diameter braids, people. Those ponytail holders look industrial strength!

July 13, 2014

One more peek of summer

Lara caught a little friend!

Summer, Summer, Everywhere

Another summer, another amazing summer vacation! That's right, folks - the tradition of the annual family road trip continues! And continues to be an unquestionable success. What did we do this year? I believe the question you should be asking is actually what didn't we do!

We started with a few days in and around DC, where besides the always welcome delights of my mom's pool,

we checked out a re-enactment of one of the battles of the War of 1812 (you remember - that's the super opportunistic war a very young America decided to fight against England while most of England's resources were dealing with the small matter of Napoleon conquering half of Europe). And by checked out, I of course mean that the kids got a crash course in how to man a 19th century 3 pound cannon. Here's Lara being a rammer (the one who rams the power and ball in) and Jake on ventsman duty (the one who sits with his thumb on the vent hole preventing fire from catching until the ball is ready to be shot):

From there it was on to Shenandoah National Forest, with its amazing mountain views:

We hiked;

we camped next to a grove of bushes that was home to a doe and her fawn (the deer there have no fear at all of humans. They're basically overgrown pets at this point, really);

the kids got to explore nature trails as Junior Park Rangers (which is a fantastic program that everyone who goes to a National Park should totally sign up for. It's amazing - for $5/day, you get to borrow binoculars, activity books, maps, guides to flora and fauna, and a cool backpack to tote it all around in);

and we drove over to Luray Caverns to check out this utterly otherworldly and unbelievable cavern and its uncountable myriads of stalactites and stalagmites. By the way, in this picture? There are no stalagmites - the bottom is actually a completely mirror-like reflection of the top in the world's clearest underground lake:

Whoever designed the lighting in this place needs some kind of award, by the way:

Later, after a few failed attempts, we built a satisfyingly big fire and then watched it burn late into the night. Do you have that same primordial fascination with fire? I could stare at it for hours... and did.

On the way out? We saw a bear. A BEAR!!! We were in our car, but still: BEAR!

From Shenandoah to Asheville, NC, to the gorgeous house and lovely company of Misha's aunt Jane.

You guys, Asheville - or at least the way we lived it via Jane's amazing hosting abilities - is idyllic.

We swam in and boated on this beautiful, clear lake. By the way, have you noticed the sky in every picture? We had ideal weather during our whole trip. Amazing.

In the city itself, we ate delicious tacos at the White Duck Taco Shop (definitely worth a stop) and yummy Nutella and berry crepes in the serene garden of the Creperie Bouchon.

And then this crazy thing happened: Lara's splash pad joy got her onto the front page of the Asheville Citizen-Times! The onrush of fame and fortune may then have slightly gone to her head...

The next day, we had some fun at the huge and generally awesome North Carolina Arboretum:

Jake got to be an entomologist for the day (there is a great kids program there which lets you borrow one of several types of naturalist kits)... but maybe not the world's best one quite yet, since he would mostly run away from any bugs he saw rather than catching them in his net and looking at them under the magnifying glass:

Lara made a more successful ornithologist, what with her already abiding interest in all things bird. Honestly, I have spent 36 years of my life not paying the slightest attention to birds, but she has somehow made them totally fascinating for me with her explanations of their behavior - and her ability to identify them!

And finally, for the last bit of the trip: the beach! No summer vacation would be complete without it. We spent a wonderful day in the very warm water in Virginia Beach, which I have to report was delightfully - and surprisingly - not at all Ocean-City-like. Just very soft sand, lots of relaxed families, and an ocean that no one wanted to leave.

Good bye, summer vacation! We'll miss you!