November 30, 2007

Mystery Present

On the one hand, I've been busily working on making presents and I want to share my doings... but on the other hand many of those who are getting said presents read this blog. So a compromise mystery present shot:

Mystery present

Someone is getting something that when folded up looks like this. I can't tell you much about it, but I can tell you that I tried out the decorative stitches on my sewing machine for the first time, and though the first couple came out sort of fugly, I do really like that leaf one I ended up going with.

November 29, 2007

Fall with Sunglasses

A lovely day yesterday. Cold, but sunny and beautiful. These colors! We went to the park after Lara woke up with this logical proof for mommy: "Good morning! Mommy yuvs Yawee. Yawee yuvs ZBar. ZBar from a box for Yawee pweeze!"

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Lara demanded her sunglasses to walk to the playground. Doesn't she look like she is about to go skiing?

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Doesn't this look like Charlie Brown's tree?

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November 27, 2007

Hanukkah Decorating

Hanukkah - star wall garland

I find myself thinking more and more about the visual representation of traditions now that Lara is old enough to begin to understand the idea of holidays. For me, as I'm sure is true for most people, this means an attempt to recreate - reimagine - the traditions of my own childhood. I have already been doing that in a way with my cooking, much of which is an attempt to eat my grandmother's food without flying 3000 miles.

This is why Hanukkah is an odd one for me still. When I was a kid in Russia, the big winter holiday we celebrated was New Year's Eve - a tradition to mark the turning of the calendar. There was a decorated New Year's tree, and the highlight of the evening for my cousin and me was clapping our hands together and intoning, "Little tree, light up!" while an adult surreptitiously stood near the outlet. I still clearly remember the tiny fake tree my grandmother set up every year on top of her piano and the beautiful, magically small ornaments that would come out of a special box to decorate it. One year I stayed up late to see whether it was true that Grandfather Frost and his granddaughter Snowflake Girl put our presents under the tree. It was not true. I wasn't particularly surprised. In any case, this holiday was universal for Russian kids, and was entirely secular; and I was a little shocked when we moved here to discover that all the trappings of New Year's were now strictly reserved for Christmas. A fat man with a bag and a pine tree? Not quite sure why.

I've now married into a family with a delightful Hanukkah tradition, and I'm thrilled to pass it down to Lara as she gets older and is able to participate more in the creation and solving of gift clues (they are really quite elaborate, though I think my no-zealot-like-a-convert enthusiasm keeps upping the ante every year). But still... I'd really love a tree. But for now, a garland made with Martha Stewart's melted crayons and wax paper recipe. This craft was sponsored by Lara's crayons, which I cut up, and which prompted Misha to say, "but those are her good crayons!" Um, ok.

November 25, 2007


So what do you do when your lovely and well-meaning family, quite reasonably assuming that your two year old toddler probably fits into two year old clothes, buys a bunch of cute tees that said toddler outgrows within two weeks of turning two in a supercalifragelistic growth spurt?

You add extensions onto the tees of course, like so:

shirt - pig + blue stripe + flower band

How cute is that pig applique? Misha drew it and then was so excited by the results, he requested to make more cute appliques. Sorry ladies, he's taken.

Hanukkah Crafting

It's an early Hanukkah year this year, so I realized I'd better get moving! We're not in love with our menorah, so I though I'd try something a little different. Inspired by the resourceful people at the IKEA Hacker blog, I too went to the blue and yellow store to see what I could find.

Thus: I took a square nine-slot candle holder (Hallare) and hammered some tacks into the center of each tin cup to hold the skinny candles (it works well to hold the thumbtack with pliers while hammering to avoid finger smashing):

Menorah Hack - step 1

Menorah Hack - step 2

Then I added some white rocks (Florera) for stability - et voila, all ready for the first night:

Menorah Hack - step 3

November 24, 2007

Happy Thanksgiving!

Today we are paraded+ballooned+turkeyed+partied out.... Here's to a day well spent.

November 20, 2007

Stencil Portraits

Finished portraits - just waiting for the paint to dry to send them out.

Stencil Portrait - baby Elliott

Baby Elliott in a swing

Stencil Portrait - Kyle's dogs

Kyle's gorgeous dogs

Oil Paints

I love the way oils look, don't you?

November 18, 2007

Friends, cake, Stratego, doggie bed - a perfect day

I really really need to see my friends more often. Today we spent such a happy afternoon at Deidre and George's, and I could just feel my whole psyche recharge as we laughed and talked and watched Lara do cute things. Aaahhhh. The perfect weekend is complete (and of course, Misha coming home from his conference is the cherry on the sundae).

First, yet more birthday gifts for the birthday girl. Thank you, guys! She loves her blue penguin (George - I'm guessing she'll name it "Penguin"). Here she posing in her new penguin towel. That face? That's the new "Lara, smile!" face she started making. I think this is a universal kids' face. When Misha made it, it was called his "cute" face. When I made it, it was called "the squirrel." What can I say, my family is clearly more creative. Or else I looked odder doing it.

november 18 - 1

Lara posed on the doggie bed. Actually, this was probably her favorite object in the room, and she spent much of our visit hanging out in the little bed saying "Ya's in the doggie bed go seepy!"

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George taught Lara to play Stratego, much to her father's delight. To get the full sense of this, it might help to know that deep strategy games are pretty much banned at our house because I am a sore loser and don't really want to play anything I have no chance of winning. Misha is pretty much a strategy savant, so... no Stratego, Risk, chess, etc. Lara seems really into it, though, doesn't she?

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Deidre very sweetly served some birthday cupcakes. The speed with which Lara devoured that thing made this the least blurry picture. Doesn't she look like she has some kind of cool electric fork? Love that light effect.

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I am filled with so much calm happy after today. Thank you, guys! It was truly fabulous.

November 17, 2007

We Feel Fall

Today's perfect day started with Lara's pronouncement when she woke up that "there's no mo' snot in the nose!" and so we enjoyed a day of breathing it all in.

Pom pom hat? Check. Stripey mittens? Check. Lovely gray wool coat? Check. Warm new boots, just in time? Check.

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We're off to feel the fall.

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We might be a bit young for loving the red and yellow leaves, but we do enjoy a nice sprawl on the ground to take in the view.

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November 16, 2007

The Pledge

It's our second year in a row of the handmade pledge - basically, a promise to only buy handmade good for presents for the holidays. I'm taking that to mean, "make as much as you can yourself, buy the rest handmade, but if you should happen to have any to-be-gifted items remaining from holidays where they didn't get given, that's ok too."

In that spirit, and in the spirit of upcycling, I covered one of Misha's industry freebie notebooks (black and maroon faux pleather cover, gold lettering - yeesh!) with some paper, fabric, and pieces of the April 9, 1937 edition of the New York Times that I found in a Saugerties junk shop. Sample headline: "'Strip Tease' Held Indecent by Court: Burlesque Owner and Manager Quickly Found Guilty After 5 Hours of Testimony."

Covered notebook

November 14, 2007

Lara misses her birthday!

Or, at least, she remembers it really well...

In other very exciting news - today Lara happily went in the bath all by herself and played in the water, and refused to get out! She still won't sit down in the tub though. Hopefully soon. We're very excited, though I have to say that all this progress has been made with Daddy and I fear that any baths Mommy administers will cause regression. We'll find out this weekend.

November 13, 2007

Still Life with Ironing Board

A quick update on our green(er) living. It's amazing how quickly you can get used to any new living pattern, just as long as you force yourself to do it for a couple of weeks. It just becomes second nature after that. We are sticking to all the things we worked on so far, and also:

Still Life with Iron

No more dry cleaning. We actually had a lot of it, because of how dressed up Misha has to be for work. But from now on, it's all about the trusty iron my mom gave us. I love that thing, but it also terrifies me, so all ironing is done strictly when Lara is asleep and then the iron is quickly spirited away to a distant shelf.

We've switched to Seventh Generation diapers, which I love, and am sort of kicking myself for not having been using this whole time.

Every Wednesday all through the winter we will be the delighted recipients of a box of farm goodies from Highland Orchards. We picked up the first box last week, and it confirmed the excellence of the decision to sign up for the farm share. We'll be kept in yummy soups for a long time to come.

Also we have signed up to get all of our electricity from wind energy. It costs a little more, and knowing that has prompted us to try to conserve energy more. I know there are issues with wind farms and birds, but I did recently hear an interview with bird advocate Scott Weidensaul, interviewed on WHYY's Radio Times, and even he admitted that well-placed wind collectors would pose minimal threat.

And finally, I'm still persisting in the Sisyphean task of trying to get the junk mail to stop, catalog by unwanted catalog. The speed with which they proliferate is kind of amazing - as soon as I cancel one, three new ones come. The key is to mandate that they do not sell or trade your name to other companies - there are apparently separate lists for one and the other. Yeesh!

More of the Little Kitchen chronicles

The love just does not stop. Thank you, thank you, so much to everyone who has featured the kitchen on your blogs, and of course to everyone who has bought instructions on building it.

Today, the kitchen (and I, to a small extent) is profiled on the Toy News page of the Atlanta NBC affiliate station, Channel 11 Alive. Thank you to Josh Roseman for a great email interview! Read the full story here.

Thank you also to the Consumerist blog, to Genial Health for featuring the kitchen in their Toymaking Fair, to the MAKE Magazine blog (they are the sister publication of CRAFT Magazine), to the Smidge handmade showcase site, and to the Turkish blog 10 Marifet. I love seeing the international flags marking my overseas blog readers when I check out my hit count. So cool!

November 12, 2007

Weekend in Saugerties

We just came back from a blissful couple of days in upstate New York, enjoying the frosty fall while Lara entertained her grandparents. I have to say, I don't know what the number one birthday present is, but a list of the top three has got to include taking a two year old for a couple of days and sending her parents to a bed and breakfast in a beautiful place. My inlaws rock.

We stayed at The Villa at Saugerties, which is the only place I could find that had modern decor (rather than the Victorian-style interiors that most B&B's seem to go for). We're not too keen on little ceramic shepherd boys and doilies around here...

The Villa at Saugerties

The Villa was perfect, especially since we stayed in the secluded Studio room. It was overcast the whole time, so our pictures didn't do the building justice, but look at their website - it really looked exactly like that.

The grounds included Diego, who followed us as we walked around his paddock and made us feel extremely guilty for not having an apple to give him.

Diego with Tree

In our defense, there were big warning signs against feeding him all over the place. Not only gorgeously colored, he also has heterochromia (one blue eye and one brown one), which he generously let us photograph.


We mostly hung around Saugerties and Woodstock, two cute towns about 15 minutes from one another whose centers are full of little shops (it's actually an interesting culture-clash of antique and rummage stores intermixed with cool Soho-ish design ones). It's very relaxing to go into stores without a stroller and a bored toddler. We looked at breakable things! We spent an hour and a half browsing books! We didn't have to keep to a schedule! It's the little things.

The food was fantastic, particularly Miss Lucy's Kitchen and the Red Onion. If you are ever there, go. Here we are at the New World Home Cooking Cafe, which was covered head to toe with all sorts of eclectic art, and where some of the customers looked like they had never left the original Woodstock festival.

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We also went to an incredible - and incredibly idiosyncratic - placed called Opus 40, which is the culmination of 37 years of sculpting and design by a man who wanted to single-handedly build an outdoor sculpture gallery on his backyard. Working alone, he quarried the flagstone on his land and slowly built a series of undulating and interlocking paths, above- and underground, each of which leads to a viewing platform on which sculture is meant to be displayed. I'm not really sure why the place isn't being used as a gallery - it would be a really fantastic display.

Opus 40

Opus 40

Opus 40

Opus 40

In tribute to the place, many visitors construct little rock balancing sculptures out of the flagstone chips. We built one too (of course!) but the pictures didn't come out.

Opus 40

November 8, 2007

Purple Fuzzy Elf Hat

I made one for Lara:

purple fuzzy elf hat

It's the first hat that she'll wear without us tying it onto her head! I think it's because of my brilliant design, of course - covering the ears without obstructing vision. You can see more of the shape in the blurry-toddler-escaping-camera side view:

purple fuzzy elf hat

I think I might have to make one for myself - and if any of you would like one too, here is the pattern:

purple fuzzy elf hat (pattern)

I made this out of a fleecy sweater Lara had as a baby, partly because it was so soft, and partly because the knit material didn't need seams. In general, I'd highly recommend a stretchy knit for this, based on the way it lies on the head. Mostly I'm just excited to find a way to keep her head warm without having to do battle every time we leave the house.

November 7, 2007

Dada Pick-a Uppies!

Today was the actual day of Lara's birthday. We woke up and sang her the birthday song, much to her delight, and when it was over she ran to the refrigerator yelling, "Now cake!" So clearly she's figured the integral birthday moment out. Sadly, after the excitement of school and a too-short nap, the day ended up mostly like this:

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"Dada! Dada pick-a uppies! Dada pick-a uppies!" (Incidentally, have I mentioned that Lara seems to have somehow picked up the Italian accent of the Italian guy from the Simpsons?) She seems to be quite sick. A mildish cold has turned into a cough that is waking her up at night and making eating difficult. We'll see what he doctor says tomorrow, but I'm guessing we're about to get on the antibiotic express.

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Of course, like at any time of even slight displeasure it's been all about Daddy. "Mommy go 'way!" she yells when I approach the couch where she and Misha are sprawled. "Mommy get off!" she demands if Misha and I hug. If I pick her up, there is instant hysterics, "Dada uppies! Dada pick-a up!" It is pretty clear who the favorite parent it - and honestly, it's pretty clear why. Daddy is scarce, but Mommy is a constant. Daddy makes pancakes, while Mommy makes veggies and says no to cookie demands. When Daddy is home he plays and plays, but Mommy is always home and more often than not is cooking or cleaning or doing some other boring thing. It makes sense.

Somehow in my head there is another issue tied into this. Daddy's work is mysterious, and Lara frequently experiences his absence due to it. She might not actually see him doctoring, but she knows the hospital building whenever we drive by - "Dada go wohk in hopital. Dat's Dada's wohk." Mommy works also, but so much more invisibly - after all, my dissertating is done when Lara is in daycare, so she is not actively missing a parent; and crafting is done when she is asleep, since it so heavily features scissors, sharp rules, needles, the need for precision and focus, and other toddler-incompatible things. So many of the things I make are specifically for her, and are for me a huge outlet of affection - but a two year old doesn't know that. Today she picked up the "Close Your Clothes" book and repeated what we had told her about it - "Dis a book Mommy made fo' you!" - but of course this is rote memory, however impressive.

Because she understands none of this, I worry about being a drudge in her perception. But maybe the things that are fun about Mommy will bloom once she is a little older. Let's cross our fingers.

Portraits - Shop Update

Progress - Lara & Anna cut off facesWhat Could Have Been Imagined History

Customizable collages and oil paintings now for sale on my Etsy! I'm so so excited about them.

Progress - Lara eyes closedLara stencil in oils

The idea is for people to send me a photograph (or several, and I'll pick one) which I will render into a stencil, and then use that stencil to create a portrait either in mixed media collage or oil paint, similar the ones above. Obviously, for oils, colors are completely customizable. For collages, I am open to the inclusion of any materials, but generally tend to use found paper and other found odds and ends. I think these would be great presents for the holidays.