May 31, 2013

Princeton by Day

May 30, 2013

How the Elephant Got Its Paint

And now, as promised, all the details of the saga of the paper mache elephant!

It was Misha's excellent idea, and honestly I was not all that sure that it would work as well as it did - so hear, hear for the visionary! We started with an armature made of two beach balls. This was the easy part - the hard part was figuring out the legs. After some deliberating, we went with two plastic cups stacked bottom to bottom, and for extra stability and to move the elephant's center of mass downward, a bunch of rocks in each of the upper cups.

Those spur-type things cut out of the top of the legs are to attach the cups better to the round beach ball. (Oh, also, a strong recommendation here for this brown packing tape as an adhesive for this kind of thing - better than duck tape, I'd say.)

Still, the rocks-in-the-cups thing didn't solve the balance issue entirely. The elephant was front-heavy and would only get more so when we added the paper mache. The solution? A fifth point of support: namely, an extra-long trunk made out of a pool noodle threaded with wire to make it bend:

Next, the paper mache awesomeness. We just ripped up pieces of newspaper, dipped them in a very basic water and flour mixture, and laid them in an overlapping pattern.

Then we flipped the thing upside down to do the legs and underbelly.... and then disaster struck. The big balloon somehow popped and started deflating! And along with it, all the wet paper mache! Not to toot my own horn too much here, but I am  pretty proud of the fact that I did not panic at the sight of the horrible implosion of our hours and hours of work. Instead? With the help of a bicycle pump, a hairdryer, and my awesome mom, the elephant was saved. I think we ended up with about 3 layers of newspaper? In this picture, the inside balloon has once again collapsed, but once the paper mache was dry it no longer mattered whether the armature was intact or not:

Originally, the plan was just to leave it as is and have the kids paint over the newspaper. And then I suddenly took a closer look at what we'd been using as our mache pieces. Um, it was ads for escort services and 900 numbers. Thanks, Philly City Paper! So, off to the hardward store for some flat white paint I went.

The morning of the party, we put the elephant in the backyard on a tablecloth, and I poured a bunch of washable paints into paper cups and set out a bunch of foam brushes. I decided against bristle brushes in the hopes that the foam ones would be a little less likely to poke holes in the thing.

And here is the final product!

It lived in our backyard for a couple of days, and then sailed off to its resting place on trash day. Misha really wanted to somehow preserve it for posterity, but realistically I think it would have to have been dipped in resin or something to survive. Instead, we decided to think of it as a beautiful piece of ephemeral art.

Next year, a pair of giraffes?

May 29, 2013

And Now Jake is 4!

And our elephant themed party went off like gangbusters this weekend!

What, you ask, does an elephant party entail? Well, inside, there were elephant masks to be colored in and assembled, like so:

And outside, there was an enormous, stupendous, magnificent-if-I-dare-say-so-myself, thoroughly paintable white paper mache elephant:

Where did it come from? How was it built? Ah, that will be a story for another blog post. For now, just know that I have never before seen the level of commitment and dedication that these hilarious kids showed to making sure every single spot of white on that elephant was covered with some kind of color:

They really look like they posed for this shot, don't they? But they did not - and all the credit for all the amazing photography goes to Mr. Forty-two Roads, the designated photo journalist of all group events:

For food, bagels, fritata, and orzo salad. For dessert? Cupcakes with little elephant flags in them that Jakey and Lara put together. And I must say that the cupcakes were indeed as delicious as this face indicates:

Truth be told, Jakey spent some of the party hiding on a bench with his face down in the cushion. Here he is slowly re-emerging with the deft assistance of Nancy, who may well have had some experience with a different child who mostly wanted to spend his birthday parties rolled in a ball:

After painting the elephant, some chalk action:

Thanks for coming to my party, everyone!

May 2, 2013

Following the Brick Road

So: true confessions time. Sometimes, I start huge random projects that really don't - on the face of it - need to be happening. (Psychoanalyze at will.) Case in point - there was nothing particularly horrible about the way the bricks were laid out in our back yard. Sure, they were in an awkwardly spaced basketweave pattern with almost an inch of dirt around each brick. And yes, that dirt would find its way up and out constantly, but would stubbornly refuse to grow moss on it.

But still, did I really need to pull up all the bricks and start over? Probably not. And yet, that is pretty much exactly what I did. Using all the awesomely patinaed bricks that were already there, plus an extra 60 or so free from Craigslist (because guess what? When you eliminate all the dirt space, you need extra bricks!), I went to town.

Here's a shot of the naturally occurring before and after effect of redoing everything row by row:

I started in March, and yesterday I finally finished. Phew! That is some ridiculously hard garden labor. But look how pretty and clean-looking it is now!

The original plan was to also uproot all the bricks in the way back area of the garden and make that a grass lawn... but that will have to wait until fall apparently, according to my quick research of when you're supposed to plant grass seeds. Any tips on making that process go smoothly?

May 1, 2013

On the Ropes

Last weekend, as part of Philly's awesome arts festival, there was a huge ropes course set up in the middle of the city. Lara took one look at that thing and was all, "Oh, it is on."

Jakey was a little more iffy. After all, if we are ever at the playground, you will most likely find Lara at the very top of whatever structure is least suitable for climbing, while Jake is usually more of a playing-with-rocks-on-the-ground kind of kid. Still, he gave it a solid effort, and by the end even declared that he liked it! You see that random mom standing off to the right in the photo? She started actively cheering for him half-way through.

Lara is a total pro. Not only that, she will immediately try to best whatever derring-do some other kid busts out. Total rock star.

Oh, by the way, did I mention that the festival also had a dinosaur petting zoo? Complete with a giant animatronic T-Rex?