Archive for the 'Making' Category


Posted by laura on Jun 06 2011 | Making, School, Uncategorized

It’s the last week of school! How exactly did that happen? I have catching up to do here, but first, let’s just have a word or two about this week. This is Honey’s last week in her elementary school, and somehow I ended up on the ‘graduation committee.’ Ok, that’s a bit disingenuous as I actually know exactly how it happened. It went like this:

My Friend Barb: “Hey, Laura, you should be on the graduation committee with me!”

Me: “OKAY!!!”

See how easy that was? Barb is a dangerous woman. It’s a good thing she doesn’t smoke. Suddenly there I was, on a committee with these ridiculously talented parents who were coming up with loads of great ideas and I was just hanging on for dear life. I have a suspicion that there’s a manual called “How to Succeed in Committees Without Really Trying” and that each these women has a dog-eared copy resting on her bedside table. It’s right next to the “How to Apply Makeup” manual, which I also seem to have missed.

In the end, the committee decided to call the event “Passport to Middle School” and go with a whole airplane/travel kind of thing, which I really liked because heck, who doesn’t love a theme, right? Plus I get a little itchy talking about ‘graduations’ before high school. (Curmudgeon.) Besides, who do you think came up with the idea? You guessed it – Barb.

I’ll get some photos of all the decorations as the week progresses, but one of my favorite things is that the diplomas are going to be handed out in what looks like oversized passports. Hard to describe, but they’re totally fantastic. The folder is blue with an embossed passport stamp on the cover, and inside is the diploma and a replica of the first page of a passport – the form was printed and the students wrote in their own names and place of birth, etc. Each one even has a photo – they look terrific.

The job I got was making the programs. Compared to what the other committee members have managed to pull together, I’m a little embarrassed that this is all I’ve really been doing besides just generally helping out. I was looking around the auditorium after one of the music performances a few weeks ago, though, and there remaining on every single chair was the program for the performance. It makes sense – during the event, it’s nice to know the names and numbers of all the players, but after the event, well, it’s not exactly a keepsake. This got me thinking; what program would be tempting to keep?

Playing off the theme, I came up with a boarding pass and itinerary sheet as the event program. Not a novel idea, but maybe just that bit closer to sliding into the diploma folder rather than into the recycle bin. Here’s the program cover:

And here’s the ‘itinerary.’

Of course, none of the students will have the slightest idea what this is – there’s nothing quite like dating yourself in front of 84 fifth graders.

I was feeling pleased that the design used just a third of a sheet of paper for the cover and one single sheet for the content, but a graphic designer I am not, and there were a couple of elements I forgot. First and foremost – to get the full bleed on the cover (that’s having the color run all the way off the paper without a white border), I’d need to print these on a printer, not at the copy shop. Second, just to photocopy the second sheet in color turned out to be over $100, which was my budget for the whole thing.

My trusty old garage sale paper cutter and I spent some quality time together today.

It kept snickering at our printer, which would print three sheets and then completely spin out. “OhMyGodOhMyGodOhMyGod there’s NO PAPER in the tray!!” I’d open the paper tray, poke the stack of paper a couple of times and slide it back in. Then the printer would print a few more sheets and moan, “Oh man. That’s it. I think – yep, I’m SURE, now I’m totally out of Cyan.” I’d replace the ink cartridge, it would hum along for a few more pages and then, “Oh NO!!” What is it now? “There’s NO PAPER in the tray!!!! AUGH!!!! I can’t work like this!!!!!” No, printer, there’s plenty of paper in the tray. Meanwhile the paper cutter just kept on cutting. I swear, it was like working between the prima donna and the stage hand of the print production world.

Eventually though, we made it to the end. 200 cover sheets.

I brought the second sheets to Kinkos for copying (in black and white) and folding, so tomorrow I can staple them all together. All in all, I was psyched that it came together more easily than I anticipated. Everything takes doing, though. There’s this whole team of people coming up with ideas and decorations and plans to make this event fun and thoughtful for the students, but unless you did any of these jobs, you probably wouldn’t know what’s entailed.

Today I was in the classroom helping the students complete a small project that will be part of the design on the walls of the school auditorium. Having pored over all their names on the diplomas and passports and programs over the past couple of weeks, I feel as though I know each one of them intimately at this point. I walked past one of the students and asked, “Sarah, are you finished with your writing?” She looked up at me and said yes. Then she paused, narrowed her eyes at me and asked warily, “Wait… how do you know my name?”

For a split second I was sorely tempted to say, “Sarah, I’m from the future and I’m here to save your life but there’s no time to talk – a cyborg assassin is blowing up the front office as we speak! RUN!!” But I didn’t, because she’s a child and she has no business watching that movie yet. I figured I should stick with honest and reassuring, so I said, “I’m a mother. We know everything.”

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The Ruthies – Layered Abstracts

Posted by laura on Apr 12 2010 | Fun, Making, Ruth Days

It’s been weeks since I’ve posted images from our Friday Ruth days. We’re still going strong and the girls are doing some fantastic work, so I thought I’d dig out some photos from weeks past and show what we’ve been playing around with here. These photos are from one of my favorite days – we were doing layered abstracts.

We started out by taking a look at some contemporary artists who incorporated different materials, images, text, you name it, into their work, and we talked a little bit about the idea of layering meaning into the work as well as color and texture. I’d pulled out tissue paper, paint, crayons, markers and everyone dove in.

Some were focused on color, and we talked about the technique of stepping away from your work to see how it reads from a distance.

Others loved playing with dimension. They’re ready to try anything.

I think this piece, though, was not only one of the best outcomes of the day, it remains one of my favorite experiences working alongside this group. This painter started out with multicolored circles drawn in crayon all over the paper. For a while, she really liked where it was heading. Then, all of a sudden she thought she’d gone too far and that it was awful. She wanted to throw it away.

At that point I said, well, what have you got to lose? Push it farther. When she asked me how, I suggested that she just dive in with some paint, but I thought she should try acrylics because then she could have some fun with texture. Layer after layer of paint went on, and at every stage, she said she thought it was awful and I encouraged her to really wreck it by going just one step further.

She came back to crayons, sometimes dipping them in paint and using them like pens, other times digging into the paint and to carve out a poem and more circles that played off the ones that had been there at the beginning – it was just so cool. The end of the afternoon found us all around the computer again, looking at Jasper Johns’ work. An absolutely terrific day.

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Back From the Fort

Posted by laura on Apr 05 2010 | Fun, Making, School, Tasty

Whew. We made it. Our trip to Sutter’s Fort was challenging, incredibly fun, and thankfully over without a hitch.

I can just hear all those pioneers from the 1840’s laughing. “You call that a hard day?” they’re saying. “Shoot. You don’t know a hard day from a hog’s beard.” (Now they’re laughing even harder. “Hog’s beard?? What the Sam Hill is that?!”) So fine, I’ll amend my statement. It wasn’t that hard, in the scheme of hard. But I was very sleepy when I got home.

We dropped the kids off at school at 6:45 am. They rode up to Sacramento in buses while we drove with all the supplies. I was on the kitchen crew, so when we got up to Sutter’s Fort, we brought in all the food, inventoried the kitchens, and set everything up for the day. Meanwhile, the kids all went to the train museum in historic Sacramento and traded in the buses for horse-drawn wagons, which pulled them through the city streets to the fort. When they arrived, all the parents went out to greet them. We were allowed to take a few photos as they rolled in, and here’s a glimpse:

There were actually five wagons of kids.

Once inside the fort, there was a brief welcome by John Sutter (played by one of Honey’s classmates), and then we all got to work.

I have very few photos of the day – partly because they didn’t want us to break the time period by walking around with cameras, and partly because we were pretty much working the whole time. The students rotated through stations where they participated in activities that were standard fare in the fort while it was active. At each station, parents would give them a bit of history, demonstrate the activity and give them some work to do – the stations were baking, spinning & weaving, laundry, animal care, corn husk dolls, kitchen, trapping, carpentry, trade store, vaqueros, candle-making, blacksmith and covered wagon. All of the parents had been trained at the fort so they could not only teach our students, but act as the fort’s docents for all the other visitors as well. (There were only a couple of stations with docents that were not parents from our school – the blacksmith and the main animal care docent.) That day, there were four other school groups visiting, so there was plenty of foot traffic.

In the kitchen, we had lunch and dinner to prepare for 150 people. Let’s just say that by the end of the day, we all had a healthy respect for the cooks of the time. Our lunch was a simple, ploughman-style deal wrapped up in waxed paper, since we didn’t all sit down for that meal. Here are two of my beautiful friends working on the lunch assembly line:

We had to be sure that any containers we used were at least possible for the time period, so all serving bowls had to be wood or metal, and the waxed paper was all torn into lengths out of sight in the ‘modern’ kitchen that we could use for washing up. The first groups of kids helped us wash apples, slice cheese and wrap lunches. Just before noon, they all assembled on the lawn and ate during mail call.

After lunch, we went into full dinner prep. I wish I’d had time to take some photos of the period kitchen to show you the fireplace in action – hopefully I’ll be able to grab a shot or two from the parents who were assigned to document the day. You can see one shot of the kitchen on the Sutter’s Fort State Park website, and it gives you a bit of a glimpse – all along the back wall are the fabulous cast iron pots and dutch ovens we got to use to prep the dinner. What you don’t see is the fireplace where we got to hang those pots on massive iron swing arms and surround the dutch oven with the coals from the (wood) fire. After being away from a hotshop for so many years, I have to admit it was great to be back in the heat!

Of course, where there’s fire, there also has to be some serious respect. Particularly when your Environmental Learning Program training materials contain sentences like this one:

“Hearth injuries were second only to childbearing (birthing babies) as the leading cause of death in women.”

Okay then! Good to know! We all learned how to tuck our skirts between our knees when moving the pots around in the fireplace or on the spit outside, just to make sure our hems didn’t start smoldering. But lifting those big old pots, swaying with water and carrots or beans, with iron hooks and sliding them onto the spit, or in among the coals… seriously, it was awesome. And the dinner! It was amazing too. The kids filled their plates at long tables covered with cucumber salad, freshly baked bread and churned butter, grilled chicken, ribs and salmon, black beans, pinto beans, carrots caramelized by a long slow cook in the fire, and mashed potatoes. This was all followed by apple cake and cream whipped by hand. It was delicious.

After dinner, the kids learned some folk dances and songs from a team called The Amazing Harmonatras – folk musicians who teach history through music. I thought my Uncle George would have like hearing that part! The kids learned a few Gold Rush folk songs and even galloped through a couple of line dances before settling in to hear some stories. I wish I could have heard more of that part of the performance, but we were all cleaning up like mad to meet our end-of-day deadline. We weren’t sure what exactly would happen to us if we ran past our end time, but we knew it wouldn’t be pretty. Everything had to be cleaned, cast iron oiled, utensils carefully put back in place and two kitchens inventoried before we got the green light to close up shop for the day. It had to be perfect, and thanks to all the volunteers who washed and cleaned, it was. Turns out that many hands might not always make light work, exactly, but they certainly can get the work done. And how. Looks like we’ll get to come back next year.

Oh and in case you’re wondering – all the sewing did get done. A group of parents sewed 95 bags for students and volunteers to use for their supplies – a batch of mine looked like this:

And my dress actually came out. I don’t have pictures of it on (thank heavens) – but here it is the next day:

A little ragged, and smelling of smoke from the fires, but still in one piece.

So there you have it. Now, if you’re ever just dying to know something about Sutter’s Fort, 1840’s California cookery, or if you simply have a need for a fetching pioneer frock, I’m your gal.

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Did You Hear

Posted by laura on Mar 17 2010 | Making, School

a muffled cry for help?

That would have been me, calling out from under an avalanche of cotton and muslin. Honey’s fourth grade class goes to Sutter’s Fort on the first of April, and we’ve been in full production mode, putting together her outfit, my outfit, and a pile of bags for the kids to use for their lunches and notebooks.

Overall, it’s been really fun. I’ve spent a couple of sunny Sundays cutting and adjusting and stitching away, listening to the Blind Boys of Alabama and learning a good deal. For example, I learned how to grade my seams! (I gave most of them Bs and one B+.)

I also discovered that had I been alive in the 184os, I would have been sunk. I have a hard enough time with patterns and a sewing machine – the idea of cutting the material freestyle and sewing it up by hand just gives me hives.

See that sleeve on the right there? My pattern called for an elastic cuff, but that would be a no-go for this time period, so I figured, no worries – I’ll just stitch up a cuff to cap the end of that sleeve. I wanted it to be a bit adjustable, since we’ll pass this dress down to our friends next year, and just working it out burned up a good section of my brain cells. They were nice ones, too – I’ll miss ‘em.

Of course, typical me, I ended up pacing myself pretty well for a while and then staying up into the night last night finishing all the button holes and hems, since they needed to wear their outfits to school today for a costume check. So by the time I realized I really needed to lop off a good 8 inches off the bottoms of the apron and the dress, it was just too late, so I hemmed them sloppily and will have to go back. Bah. I still hate hemming. I certainly wasn’t doing myself any favors, though – look at that hem! It’s like a foot high!! No wonder it’s wonky. It never had a chance.

The good news? She likes it anyway.

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These Days

Posted by laura on Mar 01 2010 | Fun, Making, Ruth Days

It’s been a month of technical delays, but it looks like we’re up and running again. DSL was touch and go for a little while there but it’s all good again.

Everything else has been rolling along nicely, I’m happy to say. We’ve been keeping up our Friday afternoon art days – I always think of them as the Ruth Days, after my neighbor and mentor, Ruth Bowen. She was a brilliant mother, teacher and artist who also relished having people, kids and grownups alike, making art in her home. I wish so much that she could join us; I think she’d really have fun with this gang. I still use her materials though, and try to channel her great optimistic spirit every week. So the Ruthies benefit from all that talent and kindness one way or another.

Still Life Abstracts

For our second session, we kept things pretty open with some still life abstract paintings, touching on negative space, composition and layering. I asked the girls to look at a few basic forms – a teapot, a vase, some scientific glass – and do some sketches of those forms intersecting on the paper. We played with leaving out sections of line, looking for shapes that appealed to us, and I encouraged them to think about the whole page. That is always such a tough thing to do.

Once they came up with sketches they liked, they penciled their compositions onto watercolor paper and drew in some of the lines with crayon to act as a resist for the watercolor. Then it was time to paint. We looked at limited palettes and balancing color across the page.

After working on these paintings for a while, they branched out into all kinds of painting.

I’ve known these kids for years now, but it amazes me how different it is to be working side by side with them. By trying to keep the concept simple – exposure and experience – I think we’re getting into a nice groove.

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Open Studios

Posted by laura on Jan 14 2010 | Fun, Making


For a long time now I’ve been wanting to host a kind of open studios at our house for kids to come over and make art after school. Turns out some of my friends who have kids in Honey’s grade were interested in the same thing. I finally got my act together and we had our first meeting last week.


It was a very basic still life session with charcoal. I started them out with quick studies, which are unbelievably challenging to many kids, particularly 4th graders – there’s a real drive to work super slowly, small and detailed, barely looking at the subject.

We also explored the material – charcoal is pretty fantastic stuff when it comes to range in line quality, tone and texture, as well as its ability to end up absolutely everywhere.


We also touched on the concept of negative space – just trying to explore different ways of looking at what we’re drawing. Check out this terrific chair study:

E's chair

Pretty great, eh? I’m still figuring out the balance between instruction and freedom – too teachy and it’s overbearing, but I know from experience that too open-ended and it’s chaotic. I think it might come down to a brief time where I lay out a basic concept or two, and then we all work away together.

Here’s the thing: I think there’s something to be said for kids and adults engaging in art together. Not just kids being taught or watched by adults, but observing, working, exploring side by side. Making art (or music, or dance, or poetry…) can be a risky business, and I think it’s exciting to take those chances together.

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Random Holiday Notes

Posted by laura on Jan 07 2010 | Holiday, Making, Uncategorized


Christmas Eve gingerbread house construction at Sherri and Rik’s house

There’s something about all those small bowls filled with twisted red vines, ruby red hots, sparkling sugar gumdrops… it’s a story, a fairy tale. We had such a beautiful Christmas Eve, warm and bright, with amazing friends.


Holiday boats

Every December, we make sure we take a night drive to look at the holiday lights. It’s particularly fun when you live near water.



Don’t believe me?


Yup, homemade! Right until about a month ago, I never even imagined that you could just up and make marshmallows. Here’s a confession – I don’t even like marshmallows all that much. The taste, that is. I’m nuts about their shape and powdery softness – they’re gorgeous. But the only way I can eat them is perfectly toasted and squashed between graham crackers and chocolate. (You could probably make just about anything taste good with that method.) These were really fun to make, though, and the kids ate them for me so that was a win-win.


Santa Bags

It wouldn’t be a proper Christmas without one crazy 11th hour project on my part. This year, it was making bags to leave out for Santa (we’re all about saving Santa some time on a busy night). So there I was, two nights before Christmas, whipping up random bags out of old shirts, pajamas, dresses, you name it. The good news? They’re super fast to make, they work, and Christmas morning cleanup is a snap!


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Something Wicked

Posted by laura on Nov 08 2009 | Holiday, Making, Sewing

Sorry to leave you all hanging there with the Halloween business. What happened with the fish? Was itfinished? (Ouch. That was for you, Kevin.) Well yes. We made it. Of course I don’t have very good photos, but here they are:


I messed up the proportions a bit in the back and made it a tad too long, but frankly it’s a bit of a miracle that it has any resemblance to a fish at all, so I shouldn’t pick at it. You know those test questions where you had to look at a 2D image and pick which 3D shape it would make? Those weren’t exactly my strong suit. So pattern making is a bit of a stretch for me. I’ve been attempting to sew for years now, and every time I take pattern pieces and stitch them together correctly, I get a thrill. (WOW! Look what that made!! I can’t believe it!) The fish was cozy and comfortable and Hot Wheels was happy with it, so it’s all good. Here’s our wood fairy:


Fortunately this was a very basic setup – we bought two fallish sprays of fake plants from the fabric store and hot glued them to a pair of old brown pants and a tunic stitched up from a curtain remnant. My kind of sewing! She wanted an acorn bag and elfy shoes, so I used scraps from the American Indian princess outfit from the second grade. Hands down, my favorite part of any fairy/princess outfit is the headgear. This one was made from a ring of brown fuzzy pussy-willow-like stuff, twirled with this super thin bronze colored wire. The wire had the quality of a line drawing in her hair – I love that. If I were a jewelry designer, I think I’d just make crowns and tiaras all day.

On Halloween night we had an amazing chili dinner with our lovely neighbors. The girls were a cupcake and a queen.


I don’t do kids’ faces here, so you’ll have to imagine how insanely lovely they were. Didn’t Joan do an incredible job with these costumes? That cupcake just turned out magnificently, from the felt flower decoration to the perfectly pleated wrapper. Fantastic. Too bad they had to walk around with these clowns…


Tom made himself into a cool jelly fish, using an old shower curtain, some balloons and a string of lights – he was a big hit. I decided to go with gothick this year – basically a goth outfit with a lot of bugs thrown in. Hard to see here, but I hot glued spiders and other plastic bugs onto hairpins and put them through my hair, and just used false eyelash glue for the ants. It was so much fun – I think my favorite part was cutting up the t shirt and stockings with patterns. Even Hot Wheels thought that was cool.

The whole goth look was a blast, but man! what a lot of work. I practically needed a brillo pad to get that lipstick off. Yoikes. And it had the unintended consequence of completely freaking one of my young neighbors out – when we went over for dinner she just had to leave me for a while because it was all so horribly wrong. Fortunately, she came around and we had a great night.

In other good news, after a loooonnnnngggg week, Honey is finally looking and feeling more like herself again. Turns out that when you take Motrin for a long time it does a serious number on your stomach. But it looks like we’re out of the (knock on) woods – her mouth is back to mild discomfort and she’s much, much happier. It’s fantastic!!! Here’s to a great weekend, everybody!

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Something Fishy

Posted by laura on Oct 27 2009 | Holiday, Making, Sewing

This is the post in which we attempt to return to our usual programming. Honey was back at school today, although she called to have us bring her medicine at lunchtime. Hot Wheels stayed home but is feeling much better. Tom is starting to look sideways at me, which for once is actually a good thing. With everyone attempting normalcy, it was time for me to start panicking about Halloween.

Halloween is technically four days away, but in reality it’s only three, since the school costume parade is on Friday. Honey wants to be a wood sprite, which I’m not particularly worried about since I have bags of green and brown fabrics and sprites are not known for their tailoring. We could throw that one together the day before. In fact, I’m sure we will. Now Hot Wheels is a different story. He wants to be “a fissy.” Not just any fissy, mind you. THIS fissy:


Say hello to Bubbles. I’m actually very fond of this guy.


Yeah, I’m talkin about you.

Anyway… I’ve never made a fish costume before and I have to say I didn’t exactly excel at that portion of the SAT where you had to picture what 3 dimensional shape would be made from what 2 dimensional drawing, which regrettably goes for the reverse as well. I’ve been in deep denial on this costume – look how much I’d done up till this morning:


Pretty smart looking, eh?? So today I faced the music and started cutting and sewing. Please think positive thoughts towards this fish, and if you have detailed diagrams that’d be great too.


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Ice Packs

Posted by laura on Oct 26 2009 | Making, Reusable

When Honey had her surgery, the doctor and nurses advised us to keep her head elevated and ice on her jaw for two days. “Frozen peas work great!” they recommended merrily. As I was driving home it hit me – two days of frozen (and subsequently thawed) peas equals a lot of peas. Surely there had to be a better way.

At home we had a beautiful big soft ice pack that the kids call the “Amy Icepack” because – big surprise here – our friend Amy gave it to me years ago when I was pregnant in the summertime. (Just stow that idea away, people, and if you have any good friends who get pregnant in summertime you have a home run gift to make them love you forever.) Back to the subject, it turns out that one was a bit big for the occasion, while some of our other packs were too hard or just awkward. What we did have were these awesome little mini packs that look a little bit like ice cubes. I found them a while back at the Container Store and they’re fantastic! They settle in nicely around food in a cooler but don’t leave a big puddle at the bottom when they defrost.


They were great in this situation because Honey could mold them around her jaw, but we had a little trouble wrapping them. All our wash cloths were too thick, so the cold wasn’t getting through. In the end I cut up a soft old tshirt and made a little bag. I had a scrap of super soft tulle to tie it together, and that little bit of extra softness felt good against her cheek.

I’ve heard about people making heat/ice packs with beans and rice, but I’ve also read that these can get smelly over time. It’s made me think that there must be other good materials out there that would make good packs of different sizes. Maybe pie weights? If anyone has ideas, let me know!

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