Archive for the 'Making' Category

Joan’s Revenge

Posted by laura on Aug 12 2009 | Fun, Holiday, Making, Uncategorized

Back in Needham a couple weeks ago, my cousin Eileen pulled me aside. “I have to tell you,” she murmured, “we have issues with your neighbor Joan.”

It all came down to the ridiculously lovely birthday party Joan put together back in June for her daughter, in which she combined readily accessible decorative materials to great effect. As much as I empathized with the response, I wasn’t buying it. After all, this was a teacher talking, and I’ve been in her classroom. I’ve also been in her house where they do things like make their own maple syrup, but that’s a story for another pancake.

Let’s just say, this post is aptly named, as it will describe an afternoon at Eileen’s home. We were invited over for an art day, and after playing in the back yard and having the most incredible home-made pizza for lunch(thank you, Kevin), the kids dove into these projects:

Colored Rice

I’d never seen this one before – what a cool idea. The kids each had cups of raw rice with a little vinegar added to help the coloring, and they were able to mix in food coloring to make the rice whatever colors they liked.


The end result looked like this:


photo by Eileen

photo by Eileen

In the end, the tray reminded me of a quilt. My understanding is that then you bake the rice for a while to fix the colors, but then do you need to boil it? Eileen, you’ll have to fill us in – how did the rice turn out in the end?

Paper Stained Glass

Next up, the kids each made a paper stained glass window project. Each one had a sheet of contact paper taped sticky-side up to the table. There were piles of tissue paper scraps, and they arranged the colored tissue into designs on the contact paper.


When each design was complete, a second sheet of contact paper was smoothed on top with awe inspiring finesse by the parents. Check out the finished windows:


I loved how some of them looked like a gust of wind had just lofted the colors into a swirl. Beautiful.

Foamy Thing Sculptures

Ok they’re called Nuudles – it took me a couple searches to work that one out. They’re cornstarch-based noodles that look a little like packing peanuts, but they’re biodegradable, and if you moisten them they stick together to make cool sculptures. Here’s what ours looked like:

photo by Eileen

photo by Eileen


Yes, they even got to make necklaces, but I won’t show you any photos of that because I’m afraid your heads might explode. Talk about taking it up a notch, eh??? I can hardly wait to see the expression on my kids’ faces the next time they want to be all creative and I pull out our sorry mixed up box of crayons. Let’s see who has issues now!

In all seriousness, though – thank you Eileen and Kevin for such a terrific, happy day at your house. We had a fantastic time. And I’m very sorry for not getting your car seat back to you before your trip up to the amusement park. We were having too much fun joyriding around Needham with it.

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Out With the Old

Posted by laura on Jul 05 2009 | Making, Sewing

The fabric stash around here just keeps growing when I’m not looking, so last week I fired up the old sewing machine.

First up: stacks of old t shirts not good enough to give away but too good to turn into rags. Something had to be done. Turns out there is a great skirt pattern over at craftstylish that’s easy and fun to make. I am 100% for clothing I can whip up in about a half an hour, and this skirt has the added benefit being super soft and comfortable.

Result: A small dent in the fabric collection, and Honey and I each ended up with new skirts before teatime!


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Teacher Gifts

Posted by laura on Jun 24 2009 | Making, School

It’s that time of year – schools are wrapping up, and parents are wondering just what to wrap up for their children’s hard-working teachers. It’s always a dilemma. My cousin Maura and I usually end up emailing each other around now to brainstorm fresh ideas. (Now Maura, it should be noted, once gave their teachers a Margarita kit at the start of summer. That is what you call a hard act to follow. Not sure what I can add to her idea bin.)

But in the interest of sharing, I thought it might be handy to post my top 5 favorite teacher gifts:
1. Cute mugs with funny sayings on them
2. Scented candles
3. Lotion
4. Soaps
5. Anything with an apple on it!

I know what you’re thinking…. and you’re welcome.

No, no, no, TEACHERS, wait – I’m just kidding!! Shoot, I didn’t mean to, honestly, IT’S GOING TO BE OK! Stop crying!!! Please? Here – have a hankie.

Seriously though, some of my best friends happen to be teachers, so I believe I have an inside track on what they like and need. (That and I’ve asked them.) When asked what they like to receive for gifts, most say “nothing,” because they’re so well respected and compensated. Oh, no, that’s not it. They say “nothing,” because kindness is its own reward. Hm. Maybe they say “nothing” because they’re afraid they’ll receive objects with apples painted on them. Anyway, after “nothing,” they usually say a note is good. And I have to agree – a thoughtful note always rocks. But after that, they might say something like, “wellll, if I had to choose something, gift cards are nice. Oh and lots of cash.” Ok I made that last line up – but I’m very intuitive, and I’m pretty sure that’s what they’re thinking.

These days in our schools, the common thing to do is for the room parents to put out the word that they’re gathering money from everyone, and then they get a VISA gift card that the teachers can then use wherever they’d like. I’m all for this, because a bunch of parents pooling modest donations together makes for a more substantial gift to each teacher. So we go with that plan, and Honey writes her own notes to all her various teachers, and I write a note to her primary teacher.

This year, Hot Wheels is leaving his preschool, which means it’s our last year there as a family as well. It’s a lovely school, and in addition to the donations to his main room teachers, we wanted to give all the teachers a token of appreciation. They all look after him at some point during the day, and we’ve been at the school for years now. I’m writing them notes, but we also baked up some thank yous as well. We had an Anzac thank you, a chocolate chip thank you, and a straight chocolate thank you.


We stacked the cookies into these bright bowls and topped them with cards from Hot Wheels.


Unsurprisingly, the pictures were all of cars. (Peculiar looking, but cars nonetheless.)


These fit my criteria of being mostly consumable with some personal effort thrown in. I’m always open to new ideas, though, so any teachers who want to weigh in – here’s your chance!

Happy summer.

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This n’ That

Posted by laura on Feb 11 2009 | Fun, Making, Reusable, Tasty

Is it really possible that I’ve resisted using an n’ in my blog titles for an entire year? Yes it is. I had to check my list of posts, and it’s hard to believe, but true. So watch out, y’all, because this might be the year of the apostrophe. 

ANYway, last weekend was a nice one here. Amy and Andy had our kids over to play on Saturday morning and Tom and I drove into SF to have a breakfast date and a stroll around Chestnut street. We had a lovely breakfast at The Grove, which is this very cozy offbeat kind of place – I love it because they have at least a dozen different types of seating arrangements to choose from. There are traditional small café tables with chairs, tables with benches, benches built in around a fireplace, and a random odd assortment of reclaimed seating from heaven only knows where. Theater-style seats and wooden blocks and cushy old couches.

I love a place like this because you can tailor your seating to the light, your mood, or even what you’re eating. You know the feeling; sometimes you want your tea in a mug and other times it’s just better in a teacup. Or, you love to eat cereal out of the ceramic bowl your son painted, but your sorbet really needs to go in that vintage cut glass dish you got at the flea market. 

Right. So Saturday we ended up in an ideal sunny corner by the door, and I got the bench seat, which just made my day. Tom was so taken by his perfect toast that he took a picture, which you can see here if you’d like. (Funny thing about that shot is that he seems to have missed his toast and focused on his Vegemite, which yes, he carried with him that morning. That’s devotion.)

After a beautiful breakfast we wandered around Chestnut for a while. We each got some quality time in heaven that morning – Tom in his and I in mine. Seriously – I could spend a week in that place. It’s awesome. After that, we took a walk down by Chrissy Field and watched the crazy surfers out by Fort Point. 

The rest of the weekend was also lovely. Honey had a couple of birthday parties to go to, and we had fun using recycled paper and yarn to wrap up her gifts. Here’s a shot of one of them:

I have this huge foldout mailer from Veer that I’ve been saving because it’s covered with tiny photos from their stock and I love the look of it. We used that and some extra bits of yarn to wrap up this packet. Some party highlights:

- sleepover with swimming and TWO movies

- ’sleep’ part of the over started after 11pm

- art party the next day

- soap making with tiny plastic bug inclusions!

Life is seriously good, and all the girls were completely washed up by about 3pm on Sunday. 

The other weekend’s accomplishment was raisin bread, which I’ve been promising to bake for about a month and a half.

I used the recipe from the King Arthur Cookbook that Mum gave me years ago, and it was GOOD. 

So that’s the weekend wrap-up, brought to you in timely fashion on Wednesday (or Thursday for you Aussies and East Coasters).

Love n’ stuff,


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Posted by laura on Feb 04 2009 | Making, Tasty

Now that’s more like it.

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Epic Bread Fail

Posted by laura on Feb 02 2009 | Making

I guess I’ve been lucky in the bread department in the past. I don’t make it regularly, but I love the process. I particularly love testing it when it’s done – hot out of the oven with some honey on top, just to be sure. A couple weeks ago I made a wheat bread with some oat flour and molasses that came out well, and last week I thought I’d try one with oats and wheat germ and wheat flour just to give it that superhero quality I like. It was dense and grainy as I kneaded it, but was looking pretty good in general. Here it is midway through the rise:

It smelled heavenly while it was baking, and then it came out like this:

I think that ’substantial’ would be a kind word for it. What happened? What could cause such a well intentioned loaf to turn out so flat and dull? Let’s just take a look up close…

Ah yes – now, can you see what I’ve done here? You can? Well I wish you’d tell me, because I have no idea. Maybe it just had one too many ingredients.

It doesn’t taste awful, but it’s too much of a dense, nutrient-rich endurance food to be enjoyable. So if you’re planning an incursion, let me know and I’ll ship it right out to you. Otherwise, it’s going to the chickens.

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Teacher Gifts

Posted by laura on Dec 23 2008 | Holiday, Making, Tasty

In our schools, the parents all contribute to one main gift for the teachers at holiday time, but I love to have a little something to go with the notes the kids write to the teachers, aides and librarians. This year my friend Barb and I made chocolate bark with assorted toppings. We melted blocks of semi-sweet chocolate in bowls over boiling water, then poured the chocolate out onto cookie sheets lined with foil. While the chocolate was warm, we scattered the top with dried fruits and chopped nuts.

Our favorite combinations turned out to be dark chocolate sprinkled with hazelnuts and drizzled with stripes of white chocolate, and white chocolate topped with cranberries and pistachios. These looked particularly festive and tasted great. We also made a peppermint bark that was delicious, but we liked that the other two were just a little more unusual.

Barb put hers on these beautiful little cocktail plates to hand out, and I put mine into brown waxed paper bags. At home, I made some gingersnaps and put them into small brown bags as well.


Then I took brown paper lunch bags and drew on them with white markers so that they looked a bit like gingerbread houses. One of each of the small treat bags went into each of the larger paper bags. Tie it with a bow and call it happy holidays.

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Posted by laura on Dec 23 2008 | Making

We don’t get a lot of the real kind of snowflakes here in Mill Valley, so we make them out of paper. This year we started using a new technique to build out our snowflake portfolio! It’s a slightly less geometric, more illustrative style.

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Rainy Day

Posted by laura on Dec 16 2008 | Making, Uncategorized

This is the morning I woke up to a cold, rainy, grey day and thought – I’ll just have to wear my cheery socks that Mum gave me.


This is also the day that I forgot my ballet slippers when I went to class.

I’ll leave the rest of that scenario to your imaginations… well, I’ll throw in that my teacher did say she was pretty sure my socks were ‘illegal for ballet.’

Moving on to slightly more competent news, we’re having Christmas dinner with our friends across the street, and this year I thought it would be fun to make Christmas crackers. I ordered the tubes and the snaps from Olde English Crackers, which was a pleasure because they shipped everything ridiculously fast. 

Inside each cracker are 5 essential components: snap, hat, joke, treat, toy. I had to order up the snaps, but the hats were a cinch to make with tissue paper.


The beauty of cutting your own hats is that you can make them all just a little bit different. 

Next up is the joke – these are meant to be real groaners. I found a whole bunch online and they include gems like, “An Englishman, and Irishman and a Scotsman walk into a bar. The bartender looks up and says, ‘What is this, a joke?’” and “What happened to the guy who fell into the upholstery factory? He’s fully recovered.” The blessing is that the crackers happen before the meal, so no one gets queasy.

Then comes the treat – I opted for fun-sized candies since I think the wrapped hard candies don’t get eaten. The kids were excited about that.

Last up is the toy, and this year I got tiny gifts for each person that I thought she or he would like. They’re surprises, though, so no pictures.

Here they are, halfway finished. I’ll try to remember to get a shot of them once they’re done.

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Posted by laura on Dec 09 2008 | Holiday, Making

Some shots from our Thanksgiving holiday with Lino and Claudia, down in Venice Beach. We were on the highway at 4:30am on Thanksgiving morning. It’s actually a great way to go – the kids sleep for a couple of hours of the trip and there’s hardly any traffic. It took us a bit less than 6 hours, while a friend who did the drive on Wednesday night told me it took her 10 hours. Yikes.

We brought pie, rolls, Tom’s wild rice dish, pumpkin bread, a present for the baby (to be) and some baby pumpkin tea lights.


Lino and Claudia’s home is modern, beautiful and welcoming. They had some lovely friends over for dinner and we all had such a terrific night.

Here’s their gorgeous table:


Lino made the most fantastic chocolate cake for dessert. (He also made a puff pastry with asparagus inside and mushroom sauce that I could eat Every Day.)


I had to throw in this photo of Honey sitting on their front step.

The dress she wore for the holiday is a dress of mine. It’s vintage, dahling, don’t you know. I’m trying not to take that too hard. Somehow it’s not as insulting as when the American Girl Company unveiled their latest historical doll – from the seventies. I was like, gag me with a spoon!

We had such an amazing visit. Here are the kids playing in the ocean, Thanksgiving weekend. Now that’s just not right. But it’s wonderful.


And how’s that for a mountain of sand? This photo was taken mere moments before Hot Wheels did a compete face plant in the sand. I’ve never seen anyone so insulted. 

I’ll leave you with this shot of our gorgeous hosts, high above Santa Monica pier, in the Ferris Wheel. Does it get better than this? I think not.

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