Wednesday, January 27, 2010


As you know, I've been featuring my husband "A's " creativity this week. The reasons are many, but he celebrated a birthday the other day, too, and this was my way of shining the spotlight on him. Here's how we celebrated his turning thirty-four:

His gift was this crazy little bonsai tree. Coupled with origami, you'd think he is a dedicated student of the Japanese Arts, wouldn't you? While it hasn't been a conscious decision, he has delved into both origami and the art of the bonsai whole-heartedly. And wait till you see his most recent creative endeavour—a decidedly Japanese art form (more on that soon).

We chowed down on some Root Beer Float Cake (do yourself a favor and try this). I am now Joy the Baker's biggest fan.

Remember the birthday tree? The pug ornaments made way for volcano ornaments, the "theme" of A's birthday celebration. It's funny, the girls insist that even the adult birthday parties in our house have a theme. With help from two small girls, A came up with volcano, and all agreed that is was boy-ish enough for the only male in the family.

I think it's worth mentioning some of the themes the girls have chosen for their parties over the years: unicorn, horse, Star Wars, Chicken, Star Wars Chicken (seriously), and last but not least, Jerry Seinfeld (don't ask).

After seeing the recipe for chai concentrate on Amy's blog, I knew it had to be part of A's birthday gift (he's a big fan of chai). Then I started seeing it everywhere—bloggers from all walks were talking about it, all of them raving about it. And now I know why. Super easy, super delicious. (happy birthday to me?)

Monday, January 25, 2010

Paper Creations, Part II

After seeing Between the Folds, the PBS film about origami, "A" tried a few new kinds of paper forms, like this mushroom.

This paper is twisted, flattened, and crinkled rather than folded, and the resulting fungi are whimsical and delicate. He worked this up fast and it is actually quite simple to make.

There is so much amazing origami out there (like this and this and this). I am completely bewildered, knowing that each of those sculptures is made from a single sheet of paper.

If you're curious about origami, the crane is a great place to start. My girls (ages 6 and 7) can both manage a crane completely on their own, and they love it. (I would say 5 is a good age to start, as younger kids could be easily frustrated by the process.)

You can watch a clip from Between the Folds here. Check your local PBS listings to see the complete film, including how those mushrooms are made.

Sunday, January 24, 2010

Paper Creations, Part I

Origami. One more of A's seemingly endless talents and hobbies. Yet another skill he spends his time honing, along with playing piano, creating in his wood shop, or whipping up homemade candies. Over the years has folded scores of tiny animals—penguins, giraffes, chickens, humming birds, kangaroos, each one more amazing than the last.

Recently, he has departed from origami animals and is taking on modular polyhedra. That's a mouthful, I know, but it's just origami that is based on folding a simple unit over and over.

This giant star (or, stellated dodecahedron) was made from 30 sheets of paper folded exactly the same way, then assembled using interlocking flaps. It's surprisingly heavy and strong, but the true appeal is its sheer enormity. It virtually commands you to play with it. If you're up for the challenge the instructions are here

The magic origami ball is my favorite, and it's not just the name that won me over. This ball can be squished into an urn-like shape and tucked into itself to form a disc. It moves in and out like an accordion and it can take many shapes. It's irresistible. Speaking from experience, there's nothing better than a magic origami ball to dwindle away valuable time with. (Watch this video to see how it's made.)

He makes it so easy for me, really. Whenever I am lacking in my own time or creative endeavours to share, I always have A's latest and greatest to gush on about. More from his portfolio coming very soon...

Wednesday, January 20, 2010

Dino Factory and Turtle Love

I have been living in a prehistoric world for the past week and a half, and it's not such a bad thing.

Last summer I was contacted by Adrianne, the owner of a very cool online shop called Turtle Love Committee. She had seen my Triceratops charm necklace, loved it, and asked to see if some other kinds of dinosaurs might work as charms. She suggested a Brontosaurus, and Tyrannosaurus might have some appeal, too. Well Adrianne knows her clients, because before either of us knew it, she was ordering more. And then more. And then, yes, more.

The success of those dinosaurs at TLC has turned my workshop into somewhat of a dino factory as of late. They start off on a sheet of paper and are then glued onto silver sheet. Once the glue has set, it's time to break out the jewelers saw. Many saw blades and sheets of sandpaper later, I have these to show for it:

But enough about the dino charms themselves. I think you need to know a little more about Turtle Love Committee, who exclusively carries the dinosaurs, because this business has so much worth mentioning. TLC got its start selling unique wedding and engagement rings "for cool people," as the website puts it. After noticing that most women have the same engagement ring, Adrianne set out to offer alternatives to the overdone costs-as-much-as-a-car solitaires. She wanted rings that would symbolize a couple's commitment while preserving an individual's character. (As a woman who married in Vegas on a whim, I love this concept.)

TLC has since moved into offering non-wedding jewelry, too. Their collection now features pieces that focus on simplicity. They subscribe to the theory of quality, not quantity—having a few items of meaning, rather than lots of stuff that ends up in the trash.

As TLC took off, Adrianne decided to seek out jewelers who are ecologically and socially responsible (I promise I don't put my girls to work. Yet...). She talks to each artist "about their social and environmental impact, and being friendly towards people and the environment is TLC's core value." But the folks at Turtle Love Committee don't just lip sync these sentiments, read more about their commitment to making the world a better place here.

Turtle love really is a great thing. And so is dino love. I can't leave you without mentioning how much I have learned about dinosaurs throughout this venture. Did you know that the word dinosaur was derived from the Greek words meaning "terrible" and "lizard"? I didn't.

Monday, January 18, 2010

The Birthday Box

I wrote about celebrating a certain little girl's sixth birthday last week, but I didn't show you everything that was made especially for her. "A" makes boxes for the girls on their birthday each year, and it has become their favorite tradition. The birthday box is a much anticipated gift—how big is it going to be? What will he put on the cover this year? Where will the secret be carved this time?

The answer to the question of what to put on her box this year was obvious. Our pug-crazed girl would get a box with a little doggie smiling right back at her.

Of course, she loved it. Just as much as all the others. We are compiling quite the collection of birthday boxes, and they seem to be getting bigger each year. (We may need a bigger house when the girls are teenagers.)

For all the special treasures and trinkets the girls collect, there is a special place to keep them safe. I love peeking in these boxes to see what the girls are coveting this minute. Their most prized items seem to change quite often. I have spied a gamut of things—from cherished souvenirs brought back for them from far away places to grapes. Old ones.

Just today we found the elusive remote in the pug box. I think I may have to make box inventory checks more of a routine occurrence.

Saturday, January 16, 2010

Craft Hope for Haiti

It's amazing, the generosity and swell of support. Craft Hope has opened up an Etsy shop to help the efforts in Haiti, and in two short days they have sold a whopping 111 items (and counting, fast!).

Some might call it a bandwagon, but I choose to see it differently. It is a way to give. An alternative way to help. Last night I donated a piece to the Craft Hope shop and it was listed and sold in a matter of hours. It's quite an operation over there, and I imagine they are working 'round the clock to keep up.

Here's how you can be involved: consider donating a piece to be sold in the shop, or choose to support this cause by making a purchase. There is a mind-boggling variety of handmade goods for sale and each time I check back, there are more and more items listed (and sold!).

All Proceeds, less Etsy fees, will go to Doctors Without Borders.

Help spread the word! Visit the Craft Hope blog to get the code for a button you can post on your own site/blog.

Thursday, January 14, 2010

One Small Change

Hip Mountain Mama has organized a challenge for anyone interested in making a positive impact on the environment. The program, One Small Change, calls for participants to make one adjustment, big or small, each month leading up to Earth Day.

The first small change my family will be making is to be more conscious about the food in our house. I am not talking about buying local and organic (we do our best to stick with those kinds of food already) but, rather, using the food we have in the house. Some leftovers are eaten up with gusto for lunch the next day but beyond that, we still end up tossing out a good deal of food each month. Spinach that has turned slimy, broccoli that's stinky, and additional leftovers that are,well, just left. It kills me to toss even a crumb.

We buy food responsibly and for the most part all our food waste goes right back into the natural system. We do a great job with composting, so any food that can, goes to the compost pile or to the chickens. But there's just some kind of disconnect in our house. How is it that we can be so careful about the food we choose to bring home, and then disregard (some of) it once it is here?

The answer, I know, lies in organization and menu planning. I do plan out our meals somewhat and buy accordingly, but towards the end of the week we tend to get a little loosey goosey about it all and change up the dinners. This leaves certain ingredients with no assigned meal, and that's how food gets forgotten.

So, in a effort to waste less, this month we are going to be more conscious about the perishable food that is in the fridge, and make a point to use it all before it has a chance to go bad. Because, see that broccoli in the above picture? yeah, I'd be surprised if you couldn't smell it from where you are.

Monday, January 11, 2010


She's six now. Her special day comes so close after the holidays, our projects just keep on keepin' on as we put together special things for the baby of the family, Ruby Jane (aka Janie-wa, the rubster...).

Her recent fascination with a certain dog breed called for a pug-themed celebration, complete with a, uh, frog pinata. (what to do when there is no pug pinata and it's the day before the party?) And so, in what has become a post-holiday tradition, out table top tree is transformed into a birthday tree. This year it was decorated with those adorable "smiling" dogs. (That's the attraction—pugs look like they are smiling)

But it's not just pugs on her mind these days. There's a new love. She has always gone in waves of obsession, mostly from one dog or cat breed to the next but she has recently broadened her animal-loving horizons to include reptiles. Clearly, a knit lizard was in order.

And after receiving a Snuggie from her auntie for Christmas, she was dying for a doggie Snuggie (I saw it at the pharmacy, Meems, I know exactly where they are. I'll spend my own money!). Curses to the strategically-placed items and hard-to-resist packaging. She was right to want a snuggie for her special dogs—who can resist being wrapped in cozy fleece?

My solution was homemade "snuggies" that would actually fit all her favorite friends. Bring on the cold weather. We have one cozy little six year old, and four cozy little friends.

"A" wants a homemade snuggie , too. Now that would be some good comedy.

Henna Art

Santa brought the girls henna this year, and school vacation gave us lots of time to learn about the ancient art form and have fun with it. We started by researching online and found so many inspiring images, like this amazing work of art.

The elaborate designs were striking and the detail is insane. We practiced drawing flowy lines and filled organic shapes with traditional intricacies. The girls sketched their ideas, choosing elements from different references, and came up with original designs.

Practicing the art form on paper was the highlight for the girls, and they filled many pages in their sketch books with mehndi designs.

They each chose their favorite from their own inventive sketches, and I applied the henna. I tried oh so hard to keep pieces true to the original designs, but don't think I did the six-and-seven-year-olds' fine work justice. Seems this mama isn't quite capable of matching the impulsivity and freedom of her kid's art. (I'm workin' on that, though)

After working with the henna on these illustrations, I have the utmost respect for artist who can render that liquid into sprawling designs made of intricate details.

The girls had fun showing everybody their new body art, explaining what they used, and how it was done. I even witnessed my one of them reassuring her grandmother that the henna will wash off in about a week. Not to worry—no real tattoos, like Mama and Daddy. Yet.

Thursday, January 7, 2010


Gifts I made and gave aside, I still have a few things to show from the holidays. Today I'm sharing a commissioned work, personalized for a very special Nana. A friend of mine had the brilliant idea to make a few custom gifts from the Remembery tokens. The first request was a bookmark with a token on it (a few of you suggested this idea in my recent bookmark post), and the second was this set of stethoscope charms.

Made with large lobster clasps and sterling silver tokens, these charms clip onto the tubing of a stethoscope. Now Nurse Nana can have her grandchildren proudly on display, ready to show off on a moment's notice. (This is high priority for grandparents, as we have had the joy of coming to understand)

These little tokens invite curiosity and beg to be held, turned over, and inquired about. The combination of the polished silver and the black and white photos give the charms a sleek look that shouldn't be reserved for medical professionals. They could work in so many other applications—backpack pulls, key chains, ID badges, ornaments...

There's gotta be more clever uses for these, but I just can't seem to come up with any right now. So once again, I'm going to defer to you for more charming ideas (sorry, couldn't resist that pun) and uses.

Wednesday, January 6, 2010

You Talk Too Much

"Khangas" are traditional cloths from Tanzania. Often worn as skirts or head wraps, they feature bright colors and bold prints, and always bear a proverb or other educational saying. These phrases run the gamut from everyday expressions to riddles, but the khangas with attitude are my favorite.

This one, roughly translated from Swahili states, "you talk too much." My mother brought it back from Zanzibar (Tanzania) last year and she asked me to make a tablecloth and some napkins with the fabric.

The colors, amazing and the patterns, vivid. That brilliant shade of blue is complimented by the striking black and white designs. I cut the pieces for the napkins starting at the edge to showcase the fabric's best asset—the border. I made eight napkins from one half of the khanga, and made the other half into a tablecloth. My mother had forgotten all about the fabric (yes, I suppose forgetfulness does run in the family) and we used them with Christmas dinner.

I spent a good while reading Khanga phrases online today. The vastness of the sentiments are amazing and range from scorching: "The mother-in-law resorts to witchcraft to alienate her son from his wife" (ouch!), to loving: "There is no guardian like a mother." And from blunt: "I don't want empty greetings" to contemplative: "To give is something of the heart, not riches."

I'm on board with this Tanzanian tradition of wearing convictions and dispositions like this. I have already chosen a few favorites: "Treat the earth well. It was not given to you by your parents; it was loaned to you by your children" and "This is the place you are looking for."

Which one would you choose?

Monday, January 4, 2010

(More) Bookmarks

By now, you may have guessed that bookmarks would be on my roster of holiday handmade gifts. I am lucky to have so many readers on my list, so just about everybody got a custom bookmark, and a book to put it in.

My mother and my sister each got a fleur-de-lys in all its tiny, hammered, oxidized glory. I expanded on my bookmark offerings, departing from the hearts and baubles I made so many of in the past two months. And now there are scores of ideas swirling in my head—a simple dangling charm is just so easy, almost any shape could be used for these. I am currently trying to narrow down my design choices for a few more bookmarks to round out the line. Any requests? Suggestions?

Five shillings for my father. My parents have traveled to Africa a few times now, so I used a coin from Kenya for his bookmark. A dangling object felt too feminine to me, so his is set in a bezel and attached directly to the silver hook. The coin I chose was beautifully time-worn, with some of the lettering nearly completely rubbed off. I like this idea of using a coin, and I was recently reminded of a Norwegian coin bookmark I had made for a friend a few years back. (I had forgotten about this completely. Scary!)

I am thinking of offering custom coin bookmarks in my shop. They'd be a nice way to remember a vacation, especially because it seems like coins are the one common souvenir everybody comes home with. (Then they end up in your coin jar, only to get rejected by the coin counting machine when it's time to cash your pennies in...)

Hope you new year is so far, so good!