Friday, April 30, 2010

Using my craft for crafts

dead soldiers

No doubt you’ve all heard the newspaper industry is dying. There’s some dispute about the nature of the affliction … whether its demise is the result of murder (the internet), suicide (industry mistakes) or natural causes (back to the internets again, where the paper goes the way of all webs). I’ve even weighed in here from time to time, taking each side of the triangle.

But, whether I think there’s going to be paper and ink product in the next five years (or five months) isn’t really what worries me …

What worries me is that the off-label stuff we humanoids do with yesterday’s news is endangered, too.

So I've compiled a lits of all the things wou can’t use your dated news for if it comes through a computer (or iPhone):

* Fire starting
* Fish wrap
* Collection mat for toenail clippings
* Bird-cage liners
* Lint-free window wipes
* Wrapping dishes when you move
* Insulation
* Emergency pot holders (the insulating thing)
* Emergency wrap for long-haul ice cream transportation (again … insulating).
* Garden mulch
* Deodorizers (for stinky shoes and plastic containers)
* Protection for furniture when you’re painting, doing art projects (or peeling potatoes)
* Umbrella when you’re caught in the rain
* Sun shade for when you're caught in the sun
* Shape preservers for shoes, hats, purses
* Stuff in cracks to keep out drafts
* Dust pan
* Knee pads
* Frost protection for plants
* Shelf and drawer liners
* Swat flies

Not to mention a whole host of material for arts and crafts:

* Paper mache
* Bead making
* Kite making
* Party hats
* Emergency gift wrap
* Collage material
* A bounce reflector for flash photography

So … with all this endangered material in mind, I decided to start a new craftacular series: Using My Craft to make Craft.

First up: Newspaper Sandals

Style on the right looks more earthy, right?


The RECORD … two of ’em. (I used Thursday and Sunday).
If you have big feet, you should probably use The SARATOGIAN. (It’s a broadsheet).
Clear packing tape

A person who knows how to use a Sharpie


Stack the papers together and stand on top of them
Trace the outline of your feet (or have your Sharpie-certified friend assist).
Staple along the inner edge of the outline
Cut out foot shape
Cut out strips from remaining newspaper for the strap
Insert one end of strip/strap between the two paper layers and staple or tape closed.
Insert the other end on the other side, staple or tape closed.
Experiment with styles. … I tried Earthy Crunchy (fit was better) and House Goddess (a little too floppy for my tastes).
Cover the entire shoe with clear tape, top to bottom.

Wear them to collect your paper from the driveway

**Next time on craftactular (unless something better comes along) Newspaper Necklaces.

Thursday, April 29, 2010

I expect the next phase will be a petition ...

strongly-worded letter

Dear Mrs. Murray - From Annabel,

I just learned yesterday we had a rule that says kids can't hold hands. Why do we have this rule? Our lane is called Friendship Lane and holding hands is part of good friendship. I think we should consider the rule a little different. I know we should have rules to keep kids from hurting each other, but we shouldn't make rules that keep kids from holding hands. We should have a feelings day. Every kid would write their feelings about school. They should tell you how they feel. We should do this. It would make people feel happy.
So, Miss Murray -- Do you like this idea? (Check Yes or No).

I hope you write back.


Wednesday, April 28, 2010

The 'selfly' hour

7 p.m. 113/365

For some reason, one I've never thought to question before now, I seem to take an abundant amount of photographs at 7 o'clock.

I never considered the timing, despite having noted it, I think because it seemed a matter of convenience. I usually start to wake up a little before 7, and despite all the things I could and should be doing ... rousing the kids, getting a shower, making breakfast, packing lunches ... I tend to grab my camera.

I sneak in on the kids if they're still asleep ...

Maybe it's the light that draws me to the hour. Maybe it's the quiet.

There's also the getting-home-from-work, time-to-myself factor. When able, I go for walks at 7 p.m. Seven seems like the perfect hour for contemplative selfly things.

Down time.

Of course, it's just a coincidence that both of my children were born in the first quarter of the nighttime Seven hour ... in December of 2003 and again in June of 2007.

Then again, the coincidence could be the reason I love that time of day the best.

Tuesday, April 27, 2010

Phoning it in

photo.jpg 112/365

Day 112 and Day 111, anyway.

**And yes! The cookies are from a mix.

Monday, April 26, 2010



Yesterday was probably as perfect as it gets for a person like me. The gray weather turned out to be nothing more than the threat of gale-force precipitation playing out in brief intervals of gentle rain. It was the kind of rain that doesn't seem to matter if you get caught in it since it never reaches a person's core.

Of course you never know such is the case on days like these until you risk getting soaked to the soul.

We were risking it ...

I had the address of a gallery I'd wanted to visit in Hudson. It was having an exhibition of two photographers -- Judith Barrett and Moira Black -- each showing family photographs.

Filled with woodfired pizza and bribed with the promise of ice cream, the kids were sitting tall on our shoulders. They were reaching up for the branches of trees trying to liberate the water balanced on leaves as we counted addresses to our destination ... five blocks away.

The man at the gallery seemed happy to see us, unsure as he was that anyone would brave the weather on a Sunday.

I looked at every photograph as he told me a little something about the photographers. He was an exceptionally nice man.

Family photographs, in a gallery anyway, usually mean intimate moments that are raw, dirt smeared and just mildly awkward. There's often a reality that pushes beyond incidental smiles. I can't help but be drawn to them.

My kids, also dirt-smeared and awkward, were on their best jumping up-and-down behavior.

Turns out Annabel's jumping-up-and-down was more purposeful than her brother's. She had to use The Facility. The man showed her to a door with a red circle and slash tacked one of its panels. "Do you know what this means?" he asked. "Ladies?" she guessed.

It means "do not enter," or "off limits," I laugh. "In this case, it means he's making an exception for you."

That's me in their presence: Frazzled. Always a mother. Always feeling watched. Always feeling worried, sometimes needlessly.

Afterward, as we made our way back to the car and the quest to deliver on the promise of treats, I asked my husband what he thought of the photographs.

"I can't really say," he treaded lightly around my question. "I don't have the emotional connection to their families that I have to ours."

Photographs, especially family ones, aren't his cup of contemporary navel gazing.

"I can't really compare."

I don't think I was asking for comparisons though I know there are some to be made.

One photographer yells "LOOK AT ME!" while the other whispers *lookatme.* Intimate moments, perhaps, or perhaps they are instants created with a hold-it-just-a-moment-longer request. It's up to us to interpret what it all means, if anything, through the lens of our own lives.

Friday, April 23, 2010

Diagnosis: Hysterical

Funniest castle ever

Of course I noticed the popsicle sticks, still sticky and printed with riddles, accumulating in the bottom of Ittybit's zippered lunch box, but I merely assumed it was all just evidence of faulty genetics and primary school strangeness.

My husband is a world-class packrat, you see, which serves him well as a sculptor (or so claims the definition of "Horder" in the Diagnostics and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders published by the American Psychiatric Association and currently in its Fourth edition).

Turns out, Ittybit has had a plan since the beginning of Kindergarten; a plan that has cost her $.25 a day. When she started developing her vision last weekend I figured she was already $30 invested in procurement costs.

Her father, giving credit where credit is due, is whom she approached for assistance in building "The Most Hilarious Castle Ever."

Popscicle sticks. (Lots of 'em).
Scissors (If you have the strength of an ox, otherwise a small saw will work better).
Matboard or cardboard (This will be the castle base).
Glue gun (Welding won't work on this one, either).


A wife who isn't hanging over your shoulder taking pictures. (Send her to the store for something useful, like beer).

Funniest castle ever


*Plan what you'd like the castle to resemble on paper, and put drawing where you can see it. (If you are me, you might ignore this step).

Funniest castle ever Funniest castle ever Funniest castle ever

*Cut a bunch of popsicle sticks so that their tops are flat, saving the rounded ends, and glue them together.

*Make walls out of flat-ended sticks as per your design.

*Glue them to the matboard so they stand straight and aren't leaning.

*To make a window, cut a piece out of popsicle stick between middle and top and re-glue the middle piece to its original stick so it looks like a shutter.

*To make a door put two "window" sticks together.

*Keep building upward until you are out of sticks. You can make floors with whole popsicle sticks if you have enough or you can make them out of mattboard.

Funniest castle ever

*Decorate with tiny, foam royals.

Thursday, April 22, 2010

Lather, Rinse, Repeat

quince 108/365

In honor of Earth Day ...

I noticed the quince was in bloom in the side yard.

In honor of Earth Day ...

I watered the bowl of lettuce we planted two weeks ago.

In honor of Earth Day ...

I remembered it was recycling day, and walked a half-empty tub of plastics, glass and paper out to the curb.

Because in honor of Earth Day ...

Last week as I shopped for groceries I decided to buy things that didn't need scissors, knives or hacksaws to get into.

So in honor of Earth Day I renew my commitment to ...

Reduce. Reuse. Recyle.

What do you do in honor of Earth Day?

Wednesday, April 21, 2010

When welding isn't an option


ME: If you were going to make flip-flops out of newsprint how would you do it?

HIM: Why?

ME: I want to make them.

HIM: Of course you do.

ME: Seriously? What would you do?

HIM: We'll I'd probably glue a bunch of papers together with a non-water-based glue, wait for it to dry and cut it out with a saw.

ME: What about Mod Podge? Would that work?

HIM: What's Mod Podge?

ME: It's a water-based glue people use to shellac magazines to tabletops.

HIM: Did I not just say something about not using water-based glue?

ME: Yes, but I wasn't really clear on why?

HIM: You go outside in them and they'll disintegrate.

ME: I'm making flip-flops out of newsprint. Longevity isn't important.

HIM: Of course not. ... I'd say Mod Podge will probably work then.

Monday, April 19, 2010

'But I combed my hair ...'

excitement outside 104/365

She was sitting on the couch eating breakfast and watching TV. Her hair was pulled back in one direction and pulled forward in another. The tangles were apparent from fifty paces.

"I have to comb it," I said with a heavy sigh. I walked to the bathroom to get the detangling spray and a brush. "Just watch television and I'll try not to pull."

A few minutes later her hair is smoother in their clips and bands.

My husband tells her she's looks pretty as he helps her on with her backpack. The bus is coming soon.

"Mom," she says in reply.

"I combed it," I say in response to his inquisitive look. "I practiced parenting today."

"Hey, I didn't say anything," he protested as if I'd been more defensive than defeatist.

They scoot out the door as I'm forcing shoes over The Champ's stocking feet. "It is cold outside," I tell him, "you have to wear a coat or a fleece." I know he wants neither.

I hold him on my lap as I pull the fleece over his head. He is kicking and screaming as I gently put his arms into the sleeves. This win doesn't seem to count.

He's still yelling as I gather our things and walk behind him to the bus stop.

"Why is he so mad," my husband asked as we made our way to watch the spectacle of Ittybit going off to school.

"I made him wear a sweater ... looks like I'm batting two-for-two in the parenting exhibition game today."

Thursday, April 15, 2010

It's not because we're cheap, it's because we care (what other people think)

Every time Ittybit is invited to a birthday party, when it comes to finding an appropriate present, I turn into a strange and sad version of the entity known as Competimommy.

The gift -- especially when you don't know a person and are trying to make friends -- becomes all important.

It can't be too loud, or take up too much room. It can't cost too many dollars or too few cents. It has to conform to a parenting style you may or may not espouse -- Attachment, Free Range, Conservative, Liberal, Waldorf, Licensed Character Friendly, Plastic Aversion, Barbie Is Killing Feminism -- lest the item wind up in the trash.

Silly, I know. It's just another thing that will inevitably take up space on yard sale table or gather dust under a bed.

Since the crafting virus has recently settled in, I've been thinking of ways to spread the germs. Birthday Parties seem perfect.

Handmade, after all, is kind of the new black; upcycling, the new salvage.

So, fresh off the success of felt crowns, and feeling a little smug about the boy’s Monster Pilla, for the most recent party we attended we made a …


We made this for a friend's birthday - 97/365


* A man's extra large sweater (I used something I found in the closet that resembled terry cloth but softer)
* Something small made of polar fleece that has pockets I used a child's-sized vest.
* Threads of matching color
* Embroidery floss
* Fabric scissors
* Fiberfil stuffing (Yes, I did gut a thrifted pillow)
* About 20 minutes with a sewing machine (or an hour with a needle and a beer)

WHAT YOU DON'T REALLY NEED (unless you are worried you will drive a nail in the coffin of the economy {causing terrorists to win} if you don't keep buying stuff) BUT MIGHT BE NICE.

*A small (tiny) travel alarm clock


* Launder garments if they've been laying on the floor of your husband's side of the bed or the bottom of the kids' closets. For any length of time. Ever.

bg monster

* Cut the backside of the men's sweater into a large rectangle.

* Cut the pocket (top side only) off the fleece.

* Fold the pillow material in half and eyeball where the middle is.

* Place the pocket in the spot where the middle seems to be and pin it to the pillow material.

* Unfold the pillow fabric and topstitch the pocket around three sides. Leave the top open (unless your monster happens to eats laterally or sub-mandibly (that's not a word).

* Sew on the eyes with embroidery floss. (You could alternatively use felt circles and blanket-stitch them to the pillow fabric).


* Refold pillow material (wrong-side out) and sew around three sides, leaving the last side open enough to jam in the stuffing.

* Turn right side out and stuff it (I've always wanted to say that).

* Turn open edges inward and whipstitch pillow closed.

* Wrap clock, slip into pocket. All you need to do after that is make a card and you're good to go.


How NOT to train your dragon

not feeding

I'm distracted.

He knows it.

He's sitting next to me on the step, growling in my direction through a plastic dragon. I am unsuccessfully trying to pull a series of seemingly related words out of my atrophied brain and push them into the room in hopes they will make sense to the only other adult there with us.

As I continue talking over the din of toddler play, he stuffs the plastic beast down the front of my shirt.

His smile is positively impish as I stop talking, extract the toy and hand it back.

"I am not feeding this."

Wednesday, April 14, 2010

Date Night definitions

Date Night 99/365

"Who's David Sedaris?" my husband asked as I scrambled to procure a sitter so that we might see his performance at The Palace Theatre in Albany.

"Oh, he's kind of a literary humorist -- part social commentator, part memoirist," I replied.

It was apparent by the silence the questioner wanted more information.

"But what does he write?"

"Well. ... He's this guy who tears a page out of life, puts it through a shredder and then takes each individal piece and crumbles them up. He then carefully smoothes out the pieces and weaves them back together in some elaborate order that is not apparent to you. He asks you to hold it for a second as a favor, while he rips up another page. And, as you stare at this weird thing in your hands, you suddenly have two distincly separate but connected understandings: 'modern art isn't really elitist after all' ... and 'my five-year-old can't do this'."

More silence.

"Ok. So ... I'll just Google him then?"

"Probably best."

Monday, April 12, 2010

A world apart but not so far away ...

Some friends and I donate a small amount of money each month to a small charity to support a little girl in Kyrgyzstan. Most of us have extra money we waste on things that bring us no lasting pleasure. This money, however, was to help her with food, clothes and schooling. Basic needs we take for granted. It's not a hardship for us to send off small bits of money into the world, it deserves no praise.

On April 6th a demonstration in protest of government corruption in that country turned violent and riots broke out. The violence spread nationwide. The country is now in the midst of revolution. All we could do was wait for news we hoped was good.

I learned today, our girl did not survive.

It's hard to wrap my head around the loss, a seeming world away from ours.

Her name was Cholponou.

I will hug my daughter extra hard tonight because of her.

Friday, April 09, 2010

Friday Craftacular breaks with superstition

95/365 ... her cat - inspiration for this week's craftacular

Lots of people get all sorts of weird about spilled salt, broken mirrors and ladders blocking a path. I'm not one of them (I'm not!), but I have to admit when three-quarters of our family selected a BLACK CAT from all the cute and fuzzy kittens at the shelter I felt a tad uneasy.

She was chosen for her name - Ariel - rather than the coloring of her coat. As it turns out she is quite possibly the "Best Pet Of All" despite some obvious drawbacks. Namely, 1. she is not a dog, and 2. the litterbox. Any cat that lets the kids tote her around, dress her up or make her perform any number of feline indignities, is just a good, good animal.

Not to mention an animal worthy of having its face immortalized in a foam-like substance.


Which is essentially our craftacular project for the week: Kitten's Got Your Hair Clip.


*Air-dry clay in assorted colors. (We used Crayola Model Magic primarily because it was the only air-dry clay I could find at the store. I'm not usually a fan of mess-less products, but I have to admit the Crayola clay is pretty perfect for tykes because of its ease of use).

Contour hair clips. (We used Goody, $2+ for a pack of six.)

*A toothpick (We didn't have any ... and floss didn't work ... so I broke a tine off a plastic fork).

*A glue gun I was looking around the house for Superglue, which we don't have either, and Ittybit dug out the glue gun from the bottom of the toy box. (!!! Why? Where do you keep yours?) Turns out it will work, but you have to be ready to be gentle with the clips or make repairs).

*Five minutes, tops. (Even though this project isn't time consuming, you might want to remove all bothersome and/or distracting objects from the hands of smaller siblings. Just sayin').



Mix your colors. ... Add a little white to your black if you want gray ... or a little red to your white for pink.


Roll a lump of clay into a ball and squish it flat for the head.

Shape two triangles out of the same color and attach to the head where ears might be.

Affix smaller, pink triangles into the ears, another for the nose.

Poke some holes for eyes,

Add whiskers and a mouth if you like. (Or make it look like a pirate or a ballerina. ... You can probably figure out how ... an eye patch or a tiara might do the trick. ...


We let ours dry overnight before affixing it to the clip, but my guess is you could just shoot some molten glue gun adhesive to the hairclip and dust your hands of the project until morning. (*Note: Glue Guns are HOT! Make sure your kids are supervising you with their full attention).


When you *might* try actually combing your child's hair *BEFORE* you try and tame it with clips.

Thursday, April 08, 2010

Random (two-part) Question Thursday

What's your favorite local band?

Uncle Rock and The Playthings ...

We're partial to Uncle Rock and The Playthings out of the Woodstock area.

Seriously? Who wouldn't love a stay-at-home-dad, turned-preschool-teacher, turn tots-of-all-ages rocker who weaves all of our favorite superheroes into a jumpin' medley?

What's your favorite non-local band (that you've actually seen perform locally)?

Ittybit still gets misty when she listens to "her girls," Those Darlins. They're not a kids' band by any definition, but they've really ensnared my kid's heart.

Wednesday, April 07, 2010

Tuesday, April 06, 2010

Reusable quotes

indoor tramp

Dear Ittybit,

I barely recognized your voice when you crept up behind me as I was unloading the supermarket haul.

"Can I help?"

"Sure," I said, happy for just the company as well as the extra hands.

I smiled as you remarked on every item you touched, taking it on its final journey from shopping tote to refrigerator shelf. It's just now dawning on me how long your reach has grown.

"I love these kind of pickles. ... This juice is heavy, I'm not sure I can lift it myself. ... Oh! You got the yogurt I like, thanks mom. You're the best mom I ever had."

I'm laughing a little as I climb on the step stool to stack boxes of pasta in the cupboard at the end of the counter. I begin my usual response: "I'm the only mom you've ever had, and don't confuse consumerism with competency. ...

You snort, and wave your hand in the air. "I know, I know, I know. ... You're still the best."

I wonder when you got to be so big. It wasn't a month ago that I still saw your baby face beaming at me from behind an alphabet book. Your limbs seem to have branched outward in recent days. You are long and lean. More graceful than gangly.

The alarm on the refrigerator sounds. The door has been open for too long.

I turn to see what the trouble is, envisioning you wrestling a melon into the crisper drawer or trying to alphabetize the mustard jars.

But you are gone and the light from the refrigerator is shining on the empty bags, shapeless and slumped on the floor in front of it.

Your part of the task is over.

I shut the door and begin to smooth the bags. And I hear your voice -- the one I've known since your first words -- bubbling through the kitchen doorway. It's coming from a far room that's been filtered through two other spaces, and followed by the unmistakable sound of children jumping on a bed.

"Let me help you with that. ..."

"Ok, sure."

With love and fancy yogurt,


Monday, April 05, 2010

Friday, April 02, 2010

Craftacular Friday: Monsters will make themselves (all you have to do is feed them)

soon as Ittybit and I finished her Breakfast In Bed pillow, The Champ was growling for a craft of his own.

“I wan pilla, too … monsta pilla. … pweeese?!”

A monster pillow?

I searched the internet and etsy, and books at the library, and came up with nothing more than the understanding that the monster would likely create itself if I let it.

So I headed to my stash of leftover sweaters and let the The Champ’s monster find me.

This is what crept in through the sewing machine ...

monster pila

What you’ll need
* A women’s small-sized sweater (I used a cashmere cable knit)
* An infant’s zip-front cardigan
* A large scrap of brightly patterned cotton fabric
* A larger scrap of plain fabric
* Stuffing or pillow form (why, yes. I did use cotton balls)
* One sleeve of a man’s large micro fleece jersey
* Two buttons
* Thread in matching shades
* Embroidery floss
* The patience of a saint


What I did (A twelve-step program)

1. I cut across the top of the sweater removing the sleeves to make a tube that would become the monster's head.

2. I turned the tube of fabric inside out and machine-stitched the top.

3. I next cut the zipper off the infant sweater leaving a margin of the knit, and stared at it for a VERY. LONG. TIME. (I had no idea what I was doing).

4. I cut a big rectangle of cotton fabric, folding it in half and stitched it on two sides, creating a pocket.

5. I then sewed the pocket, wrong-side out, onto the salvaged zipper.

sewing zip to pocket

6. I slit a hole in the center of the top third of the pillow form, poked the pocket through the opening, and hand-stitched the zipper (still zipped) on either side of the slit.

sew zip

7. I unzipped the zipper and cut away more of the sweater, and then stitched more along the edges on the inside of the new “pocket” to make sure it was secure.

8. Then I stared at it for a VERY. LONG. TIME. thinking: ‘people who really know how to sew will laugh at this.’ Look, the pins aren't even facing the right direction. If the sewing machine hits one of the pin heads ...

Then I broke the needle. ...

And spent the next 25 minutes looking for a replacement and a flat head screwdriver. (I refuse to count those as steps).

9. Once I had the machine situation under control, I cut off the sleeve of one of my husband’s micro-fleece jerseys (to use as monster legs) and cut it in half up the center. I folded each piece wrong-side out, and stitched along the long edge. I right-sided each leg, and hand-stitched them to the bottom half of the pocket leaving the bottoms open.

10. I found two buttons and sewed them above the “mouth" as "eyes." (NOT thinking of Coraline at all).

11. I made a pillow form out of a large piece of cotton fabric (you can buy one pre-made), and stuffed it with cotton balls. (What? I still haven't gotten to the craft supply store.)


12. Then I turned the monster inside out, lined up the corners of the pillow insert and the corners of the monster and stitched the corners (back and forth with the zig-zag machine stitch. Returned the pillow right-side out.


Of course, the thirteenth step is going to need a twelve-step program of its own.

This monster is hungry.

monster toy

Thursday, April 01, 2010

Random Question Thursday: On Bullying

free speech

A story out of South Hadley, Mass. has my husband and me reliving an argument from a couple of years ago.

A 17-year-old high school student in the western Massachusetts town, Phoebe Prince, committed suicide after enduring months bullying that allegedly included physical assaults, vicious taunts and name-calling by other teens.

The tragedy has sparked a public outcry that students who participated in the shameful behavior be charged in connection with her death, and that school officials be held accountable for not protecting her from her tormentors.

Our positions haven't changed much since the discussion began in 2008 after a Missouri woman named Lori Drew was indicted on a charge of cyberbullying following the 2006 suicide of a teenager - Megan Meier. Drew was convicted but later acquitted of the crime.

I think our laws are sufficient with respect to harrassment and endangerment, and to change them in light of extreme cases will change our society in a really dangerous way. Making new laws that penalize "bullies," specifically people who use words as their their weapons, will not only make meanness a little more stealth, but may also snag anyone who ever makes a protected but unwanted observation.

In the cases of bullying, I think we need to strengthen our kids and their ability to stand up for themselves and others. I think we do that by being brave even if we have to fake bravery.

He thinks we make societal changes through laws and penalties.

What do you think?