mommy blogs killed the SASE

Remember my SASE project? Well, I got a response from Kikkoman pretty quickly, actually. I was waiting to blog about it until I had another self-addressed stamped envelope to send out, thinking I'd format the posts for this series in a to/from fashion, reporting on anything I'd received and ending with the next SASE to go in the mail. But, man, SASE requests on product labels and elsewhere are hard to find! There is usually some contact information, of course, but the closest I've found to anything like Kikkoman's label are websites for more recipes. Bo-ring. I want actual stuff in my mailbox, people! I don't have time to peruse your website and pin my favorite recipes!

And the grumpy part of me that reads too many mommy blogs, meanwhile, has to wade through countless "reviews" of free products that these successful bloggers receive EVERY WEEK! It's not that I want free stuff, per se, and I like my project in that there are really no strings attached, right? Kikkoman is not expecting me to blog about what they sent, though it is a form of outreach and advertising. But I do wonder if companies have directed those efforts to folks who are likely to write a fairly glowing review and reach a greater audience. As a reader, let me tell you, it gets old after awhile, reading about your free wardrobe service or the cruise your family took, like watching celebrities walk the red carpet in multi-thousand dollar gowns and accessories they're given for free. It's just thinly veiled advertising.

Anyway, enough of my grumpy old man impersonation. Here's what Kikkoman sent, a lovely little recipe book with some tasty snack suggestions. I put Neal to work right away on the Aloha Trail Mix.

That's it for now! I'll keep looking for SASE requests. In the meantime, in a continued effort to get stuff in the mail, I've re-started a blog project that never really got going back in my Boston days. It's called Check Your Gauge and if you like to knit or crochet and have a little bit of extra yarn laying around and a wee bit of change for postage, you should check it out!

PS - I've also resumed the Makery but under a different guise: geeky beaky, the "softer side" of Color Bird Studio. Felt phone cases for Android + Mother's Cookies inspired products for now. Stay tuned for more projects in 2015!


burning bridges: artists in offices

There's this book called Artists in Offices. It's been on my Amazon wishlist for awhile now. To be honest, I'm not totally sure what it's about. I suspect it may not actually be about artists working in offices, although I know so many creative types, like myself, who've found their professional way through a series of cubicles. There is a book about that. It's called The Artist in the Office. I should probably read it. It took me awhile to reconcile my sort of stereotypical notions of who an artist is with my obsessive-compulsive tendencies (and truth be told, I've met many a fellow print designer who defies the messy, disorganized artist stereotype). Nearly a couple of decades, actually.

I was 19 when I got my first real office job. Okay, I was about a month away from my 20th birthday, but still. Technically, I was a mere teenager. After only three months, the bakery gig was wearing on me. And that afternoon eclair snack habit was doing me no favors.

I liked the idea of working in an office, you know, wearing nice clothes, spending time in an elevator on a regular basis, complaining about rush hour traffic, taking coffee breaks, that sort of thing. I worked 32 hours a week in a group of law offices in the now trendy uptown area of Oakland. A few months after I got this particular job, I resumed my undergraduate studies at a community college. How I managed that workload while attending 4 to 5 classes each semester is a bit of a mystery to me now, but I think part of what made this work was that about 20 of those hours were spent answering phones. When the phones weren't ringing, I was free to study, do homework, etc.

For the other 12 hours, I assisted the office manager - updating the law library, helping her with bookkeeping, running errands, that sort of thing. I loved it. Eventually I was recruited by the immigration firm to spend some of my hours working for them. One of the partners in this small firm would later offer me a full-time position, one of two times I turned down a full-time job offer in order to pursue a mix of other, some might say more creative, certainly less lucrative opportunities. I don't regret that decision, per se, but I do ponder the sensibility of it from time to time. But I was young and fresh out of college and, anyway, I'm getting ahead of myself.

This position is also where my love of dance began. Well, other than dabbling in just about every dance genre as a kid. One of the lawyers in the office was on the Board of Directors for Savage Jazz Dance Company at the time and occasionally he'd offer me free tickets to their local performances (poor college kid that I was). My mind was blown. Watching these particular contemporary dancers was like nothing I'd ever experienced before - athletic, sensual, beautiful. All that good stuff. And in a, I don't know, sincere way that has, over the past 17 years or so, proven to be pretty rare.

Not a bad gig.


burning bridges: I made a margarita for Will Patton

When I wrote about my second gig in baking, I skipped over a couple of other part-time jobs I had during my year in Bend, Oregon. At some point during my tenure at Fred Meyer's bakery, I got bit by the waitressing bug (the bug that precedes the acting bug?) and decided to apply as a food server at Cafe Rosemary, which has since closed. I primarily worked the weekday lunch shift, which wasn't as busy or tip-lucrative as dinner but I loved that I neither had to get up crazy early or stay up too late. I can't remember how well that worked with my class schedule but I'm assuming my off days were my school-intensive ones. In other words, I had no real time off, especially considering I was still working a shift or two at the bakery during this time.

Anyway, all went well for a few months. With tips figured in, I averaged about three times what I was making at the bakery. The guy I worked with most days - I think his name was Scott? or Sam? - was really cool. A very tall, blonde, handsome, down-to-earth snowboarder ... with a fiancee. What, I had a boyfriend, too! Sheesh. The restaurant was owned by an older couple - the guy cooked while the gal managed the floor. I think their adult son was involved in some way as well. The food was amazing. The daily soup was always incredible (and I'm not even a soup person!) and there was this salad we made with fried goat cheese ... holy cow, it was tasty. For Thanksgiving that year, I bought a pie that came with a large to-go cup of brandy-spiked whipped cream. It was the star of the holiday dinner that year, let me tell you, no offense to my Grandma's turkey. But the gal-half of the owner duo, unlike her husband, was, well, difficult to deal with after awhile. At the end of a shift my tall, blonde, snowboarding co-worker and I would count up the tips - and she'd take a third of our total. Kinda messed up, right? Then one day we had an argument about a female diner who asked about the day's soup. I'd been told at the beginning of my shift that either we didn't have soup or we sold out really quickly, I can't remember now, and somehow I missed the memo that this diner was given special treatment because I basically got as close as I've ever been to fired over telling her there was no soup. It was mutually agreed that I should take the rest of the shift off. Sensing that I was quite possibly on the verge of being fired, I called later that evening and quit. It was also mutually agreed that a two-week notice was unnecessary.

I walked straight from Cafe Rosemary to Baja Norte, across the quaint downtown area of Bend, where I applied to a front-counter position. I loved working at Baja Norte, which was owned, at the time, by the same guy who owned Mexicali Rose (both restuarants are closed now - such is the restaurant industry in general but in Bend in particular to the point that it's kind of a local joke how often restaurants come and go). My Grandma loved Mexicali Rose and we'd been going at least once every visit since I was 12 or so. They had one of the best margaritas I've ever had and their carnitas was to die for. The recipes were the same over at Baja Norte so I now know what went into that carnitas and I'll take that secret to my grave.

Other than delicious discounted food, I enjoyed working there because the vibe was way more laidback. Everyone who worked there was either a student at COCC like me and/or a total ski bum. The tips were okay. Definitely not making three times minimum wage here but it was enough for laundry and gas (because gas was $.99 a gallon at the time).

And when the Kevin Costner flick The Postman was being filmed at nearby Smith Rock State Park, Will Patton came in one night. I poured him a margarita while he waited for his to-go order. And that true story concludes my brief career in food service.


friends who like pictures of cocktails

I've been on Instagram for a little over a year now. I like it. Despite using Facebook primarily to stay in touch with extended family, I tend to self-censor just a bit, limiting the number of photos I post of my kids, that sorta thing. But since Instagram is just images and captions, I feel like I can post whatever I want in any quantity I see fit (similarly, I reserve my less, shall we say, diplomatic posts for Twitter). If you don't want to see pictures of my adorable offspring, don't follow me there. You know what I mean?

Anyway, it's been interesting to observe what images different followers "heart." I have a few friends who seem to like just about everything I post, which is cool. But most friends and acquaintances tend to "heart" the same kinds of things over time. Here's how my small following breaks down:

Friends who like pictures of my kids.

Friends who like pictures of my cats.

Friends who like pictures I post when I go running.

Friends who like pictures of my crafty pursuits.

Friends who like pictures of food.

Friends (and total strangers) who like selfies.

And of course, friends who like pictures of cocktails.

Am I missing anything? How does your social circle compare?


burning bridges: advanced baking

Actually, I didn't really do any baking at this job, either. But having worked at a bakery before helped me easily land this food service gig shortly after relocating to Berkeley following my one post-high school year in Bend, OR. I worked the opening shift, meaning I got there at the ungodly hour of 5 am or so, but the upside was that it was just a couple of blocks from my apartment. I put out all the baked goods the bakers had been baking for a couple of hours by the time I got in, did some prep such as cleaning and cutting strawberries for the cake gal (every bakery has a cake gal), and finished some products like the black & white and yellow smiley face cookies. By the time the bakery opened, I was already an hour or two into my shift! In addition to getting up super early, relatively low pay, and not the most flexible schedule (eventually I picked up on my community college studies at DVC before transferring to Cal), another downside was being allowed to pick any item to enjoy during my break. It's just not a great idea to eat chocolate eclairs every day, you know?

Anyway, I took my son there one afternoon last week and other than the girl working there at the time (who was probably my daughter's age when I worked there!) and the absence of the fro yo machines I vividly remember in the back left corner, nothing has changed. The cookies they sell by the pound are exactly the same, as are the decorated cookies, pastries, breads, and several of the cakes (mmm, chocolate fudge cake ... I also remember the pink-colored white chocolate flaked "champagne" cake). Having moved around so much in my life, it's a pretty novel (and kinda cool) thing to be able to return to a place that hasn't changed much at all.


burning bridges: baker? check!

Remember this series? No? That's okay. I've only written one post about past jobs so far and it was awhile ago. But I've been thinking about this idea a lot lately, since I worry some days that I might be kinda "burning bridges" with the, uh, forum that makes my current "job" possible. (A little constructive criticism never killed anyone! And anyway, like they care. Or notice.)

Anywho, where were we? Ah, yes, high school graduation! So my first "real" job outside babysitting and those sort of practice jobs you get while you're a student was in the bakery of the Northwest grocery chain Fred Meyer (no relation to Russ, as far as I can tell). I can't remember now why I applied there, or where else I applied, other than as a delivery driver for a new pizza joint. Minimum wage was pretty, well, minimal at the time and the pizza joint was offering a little more per hour but the bakery offered a few schedule options that worked really well with my community college course load at the time, the gals who worked there were really nice (I regularly hiked Black Butte with the lady who decorated the cakes), and, duh, baked goods.

The funny thing is the only product we actually baked there was fresh bread; everything else was delivered at the crack of dawn by trucks coming from the store's central bakery in, I don't know, Portland? In other words, I didn't really learn anything about baking. I was criticized for using too much icing on the cinnamon rolls, and that all-white uniform was doing me no favors, but otherwise I really enjoyed that job, my first "real" job.

And I was able to put that year of professional experience to use after relocating to Berkeley the following summer, but we'll save that one for another post.


Self, addressed: Kikkoman

I realized recently that I've spent much of the past decade or so in a weird sort of feedback loop. Like most people, I have a smart phone and post pretty regularly to Twitter, Facebook, Instagram (links to the right, if you're into that kinda thing). And it's hard not to start checking for feedback - hearts, favorites, likes, comments - almost immediately. It's maddening. But this insatiable need for feedback actually started during the graduate school application process that I initiated (the first round, that is) over a decade ago. A few weeks after I submitted that first completed application package, I started eagerly anticipating the arrival of the mail. It was crazy. I'd never been so excited to check the mail before! And even after I was accepted to a couple of schools during the second round (and devastated by the receipt of so many more rejection letters) I continued to look forward to checking the mail, increasingly disappointing though it was. Insert stale joke here about how all I get in the mail now is bills and junk mail, blah, blah, blah. I mean, I did work for one of the oldest stationery companies in the country and I make wedding invitations for a (meager) living. So, yeah, I like getting stuff in the mail and, though usually a month or two late, always send thank you notes. Shoot, I even taught a class about mail art.

So when I happened to notice one night eating potstickers with my family that our Kikkoman soy sauce had this thing on the back of the label suggesting I send a self-addressed stamped envelope (SASE) for more recipes, I thought it would be the perfect little project to use up a few of the envelopes in my under-utilized inventory while indirectly sending myself a little something in the mail!

This project seems simple enough but brings up so many questions for me. What size envelope should I send? If I send a bigger envelope, will I receive more things in the mail? Who will my SASE go to over at Kikkoman? Is the SASE person busy? How long will it take to receive something? Should I color coordinate my envelopes with the product's label? (Answer: Sure, why not?!)

The only problem is, now that I've started this project, I'm not finding a whole lot of SASE requests on the backs of products! I'll keep searching, though, and if any of you readers have a hot tip, do let me know in the comments, won't you?


a crafty generalist's dilemma in the time of the Single Item Niche

It's been just about seven months since I "went back to work" after an extended "maternity leave" with baby #2. All those quotation marks are due to the fact that I haven't had a real job in about five years, since my post-grad teaching fellowship wrapped up and baby #1 was quickly morphing into a toddler. Economy was tanking and any hope of landing a studio art position in academia was quickly fading. Even so, I applied to a second round of teaching gigs while performing the duties of default stay-at-home-mom. In the little nooks of any time leftover (hard to believe now with two young kids, two old cats, and a house that seems like a living person at times that there was any time leftover but I suppose there always is) I launched my micro-business. And I was pretty lucky. After about six months sales picked up primarily through word of mouth, enough that I only wondered a month or two over the next couple of years if I should really have kid #1 in part-time daycare. By the time baby #2 came along, kid #1 was in four days of preschool most weeks and my micro-business had turned into a more-or-less full-time job. I assumed I'd be able to take a year off to chill with baby #2, get kid #1 settled into Kindergarten, and then pick up where I left off.


Between part-time daycare costs and material expenses, I don't think I broke even one of the seven months baby #2 was in someone else's care for part of the week, giving me some dedicated work time. So about halfway through this summer I decided to draw a line in the sand and am now officially a mostly SAHM, with a touch of WAHM ("work at home mom", that is, not the dreamy English musical duo of the 1980s) between the afternoon naptime hours of 12:30 and 2:30, give or take. SAHM plus, if you will.

Earlier this year, I decided to merge my two Etsy shops and re-brand under one business name, one shop, one blog, etc. I wrote about it here. It seems like the trend lately (in the food industry, too, it seems) is to streamline, simplify, and perfect that one thing, that one preferably handmade product that you make so well you can eventually mass-produce and pitch to the folks at Etsy Wholesale (handmade items mass-produced for wholesale mark-up ... wait, what?). And I guess that was kind of where I was going with the whole rebranding thing. But at the end of the day, I'm a crafty generalist at heart, a bar & grill, if you will, of the handmade world, and it's hard for me to do just one thing really well.

Anyway, the fact that my creative tendencies go against the current trend of this, how shall we coin it, "Single Item Niche", is not to say that is necessarily the cause of my shop's struggles this year. Who knows? But I do feel like I need to take a "break" (you know, the kind of "break" you might enjoy while taking care of a 19 month old toddler full-time, your 15-hour days book-ended by the before and after school shenanigans of a 1st-grader). I mean, if I think about it, that's kinda why I decided to pursue art & stuff in the first place. I just couldn't decide what I wanted to be when I grew up and art seemed like a place where I could explore and do lots of stuff. The same goes for hanging out with my kids, daunting and all-consuming as that task can be at times. Theoretically I can do a lot with a toddler and/or grade-schooler in tow, right? Theoretically.

All that said, I took advantage of those final weeks of daycare to add several new designs to the shop, as well as a couple of new ready-to-send stationery products. For fans of True Blood, there's this wedding invite:

If you're into something a little ... lighter, there's confetti in pinks, purples, and navy blue!

Maybe you're planning a Wizard of Oz themed birthday party or, heck, wedding! Yep, I have a design for that, too!

And finally, some more cheerleaders to cheer you up:

Cheers, indeed - here's to yet another chapter in this ever-evolving adventure of work meets kids with a dash of art & stuff!


a built-in DIY play kitchen

As I've mentioned before, since sending kid #2 to part-time daycare back in February, waiting in vain for custom orders to pick up (the "in vain" part I'll explain in a later post), I've been spending some of my 16 or so child-free hours each week catching up on projects around the house. We bought and moved into our little mid-century Oakland home almost exactly 4 years ago and it's taken us that long to even begin to finish some of the 70+ items on the to-do list we created after closing. We started updating the bathrooms almost two years ago; those are finally done. Well, you know, "done" for now. The kids' rooms I'd already painted and fussed with before kid #2's arrival. So all I have left to tackle is the combined living/dining area (we've rearranged the furniture in this not-so-great "great" room half-a-dozen times) and the kitchen, which needs a good spring cleaning, a fresh coat of paint, and, one day, a new refrigerator.

As a side-project of the kitchen plans, I've always wanted to transform this little built-in bookcase into a play kitchen, especially considering we're back in crazy toddler land with an 18 month old who would immediately destroy anything we put on those shelves (case in point: I've already had to fix or modify two elements in the play kitchen, finished just yesterday). Pre-fab play kitchens are expensive - okay, not that expensive, especially considering how much time I poured into this DIY version - and bulky, but mostly, I was smitten with the idea of creating a play kitchen that was built into an under-utilized portion of our real kitchen, daydreaming about an idyllic domestic scene that involves me cooking a real meal while both kids peacefully entertain themselves just feet away in their play kitchen ...Wait, where was I?

Ah yes, before and after. Do you suppose this "addition" increases our home value at all?? Not that we're planning on selling anytime soon, but really, who wouldn't want a built-in play kitchen? See idyllic domestic daydream, above. Anyway, does this post leave you with more questions than answers? Let's see if I can address a few of those now...

How long did this project take?
The "before" image above I originally posted to my Instagram account back in March or so. Those red IKEA coasters were part of the impetus for this project (they look just like stovetop burners, no?), but in the past six months, I've misplaced two of the four, so I was truly starting from scratch when I resumed this project last month. Inspiration and motivation combine with actual free time only occasionally, like a comet passing by Earth, but I've realized lately that I continue trouble-shooting a creative problem quite a bit in the long stretches of time between periods of actual productivity.

Is that a wall hook?
In addition, I get a lot of ideas from simply browsing different stores like Michael's (where I picked up the scrapbook papers above), Home Depot, IKEA (you say wall hook, I say super modern faucet), art supply stores, etc., a tactic which can prove time-consuming and expensive, however, if I'm not careful. But other than one round of returns, I did pretty well with this project both in terms of time spent shopping (notice how I specify time spent shopping, not time spent on the project in general) and overall cost.

How did you create a kitchen sink without making a huge hole in the shelf?
One of the biggest challenges was figuring out how to create a sink, for example, without any hardcore woodworking tools, like saws and stuff. I decided instead to paint a wooden picture frame with metallic silver paint, incorporate some of the water scrapbook paper mentioned above and call it a sink.

Whoa, is that real granite?
The "granite" counter and backsplash are made from contact paper I picked up at my local Ace Hardware store. Bonus feature - it's totally removable!

I'm curious about the sink fixtures, but can't remember what those hot and cold spinny-thingys are called...
Man, me neither! My original plan involved using a basic set of real bathroom fixtures but the cheapest set I could find was $25. When you consider spending $25 on one element of a DIY project, you really have to ask yourself if your project makes economical sense. Which is not to say this project does, but I was definitely not going to spend $25 on this part. Anyway, I found the wall hook at IKEA and love how that turned out. Even the 6 year-old got "faucet" right away. Success! But I wanted to take it one step further. I became obsessed with the idea of creating hot and cold handles (is that what they're called?) that could be rotated but not come off completely. So I spent a fair amount of time tinkering with a combination of dual threaded screws, t-nuts, and stop bolts recommended by the guy at Ace.

Unfortunately, I couldn't quite squeeze my drill in between the two shelves except at a slight angle and then the t-nut/screw/bolt combo wouldn't quite work right. So in the end, the hot/cold handles are cork painted with the same metallic silver paint used on the sink, with the dual threaded screw attaching those to the shelf (I had to drill a hole almost all the way through the cork to get most of the dual-threaded screw in then screw the portion of the screw sticking out of the cork into the angled holes I managed to drill into the shelf). We'll see how long it takes the kids to figure out that if they keep rotating the handles, they'll eventually come out all the way.

Tell me more about how you solved the problem of building a curved cabinet under the sink?
Since the shelves are curved, rather than drive myself crazy trying to build out some sort of rigid cabinet side and door, I simply stapled a large piece of tan felt, cutting a vertical slit at the corner for easy access to the under-sink storage area. (I've really gotten some mileage out of this tan felt, by the way, originally purchased in Boston for the cat carrier covers I threw together in 2009, before we moved back to California.)

Is that a chicken in the oven?!
It's a turkey! That part was easy. The oven door, not so much. I could've used a dozen different materials for this but decided on a prepped 9 x 12 inch clayboard at the art supply store - a decision motivated by the intersection of size and price with the option to paint on it. In the end, I printed a stock photo of a turkey roasting away and attached that to the front, used a leftover cabinet handle from our actual kitchen and bathroom, and a small set of hinges to attach the door to the bottom shelf. Initially I didn't want the hinges to show, but couldn't use the screws since they'd stick out of the relatively thin clayboard. So I tried three - yes, 3! - different kinds of glue. The kids broke the door off its hinges within 24 hours. So now the hinges show and I still need to find some sort of little stop bolts to cover up the little bit of the screw that pokes through the inside of the door.

How does the oven door stay shut?
With the power of magnets, my friends. And how powerful they are. The door stays closed thanks to a magnetic bracket thingy that is almost too powerful for the strength of the average toddler (you could say this play kitchen is ironically child-proofed in that way). My son can manage this no problem but my daughter occasionally has a hard time opening the oven. I'm thinking a thin piece of felt over the metal plate should help dull the magnet's pull just a bit. And if that takes me too long to finish, I figure the 18 month old will grow stronger over time, right?

What materials did you use to create the stovetop?
The stovetop is the last thing I tackled, which is ironic since it was the part I thought I had covered when I started this project. Now that half of my coaster/burners were missing, what should I use instead? When in doubt, I use felt!

I created four "burners" using charcoal gray felt, layered with three red, concentric circles and then hand-stitched all of those onto a lighter gray "stovetop" piece. The oven door is a bit wider than the stovetop since I attached the sink before the oven door, not quite leaving enough space to make the stovetop the same width. D'oh. Kids don't seem to mind this minor design flaw.

Why did you staple the stovetop onto the shelf/counter? 
Partly because while I want this play kitchen to be built-in, I don't necessarily want it to be a huge hassle to eventually remove or modify (look for a post about a DIY play kitchen remodel in about a decade).

Microwave or view?
Finally, for the top shelf, I thought about trying to create a microwave in half of the space but instead went a slightly easier route and created windows using leafy green scrapbook paper I found at Michael's placed in white 5 x 7 inch frames from IKEA, finished off with very simple red felt curtains. I'm not 100% satisfied with the curtains and I'm guessing the 18 month old isn't either since that's the first thing she attempted to destroy upon arriving home yesterday afternoon. Alas, hot glue gun does not fix every crafty problem!

But wait, where's the fridge?
Ah yes, this is what the 6 year old asked when he saw the project in progress last week. I'm working on it, sheesh.


I have bitchy resting face.

First there was the art series and street campaign that hit Oakland a few months ago - it was called 'Stop Telling Women To Smile More'. Brooklyn artist Tatyana Fazlalizadeh wheat-pasted large-scale posters of women well, not smiling, in public places. That's cool. I saw one posted near the MLK Jr. Way entrance to the MacArthur Maze. The posters were also on view locally at the Betti Ono Gallery.

How many people do you suppose saw those? 5 million? Ish? Well, that's how many views this video has so far:

Hey, that's the girl from the AT&T commercials! Best part? "Um, ok!" Anyway, I'm so glad this issue is getting some exposure. After all, I too have bitchy resting face. Exhibit A:

A candid shot taken while touring Plymouth, MA, back in '06, which I blogged about here. Seriously, though, who knew this was a common experience for so many women? I can't tell you how many times I've been told, always by a man, that I should smile more.


a summer of reading

The 6 year old got his own library card this past weekend. We signed him up for their summer reading program, by which he's encouraged to read at least ten books throughout the summer, getting a sticker for each one and hitting up the library for prizes at the 10 and 20 book level. Thing is, we read several chapters of a chapter book or several shorter books to him every night! So, inspired by the "book bonanza" incentive board I saw in the June/July issue of FamilyFun magazine, we've upped the ante a little, requiring him to read 1-2 "learn to read" books on his own (with our help, of course, if needed) or a chapter book that we'll read to him in order to earn a sticker plus a little prize in the mini sand pail, leftover from last year's birthday shenanigans.

Think it'll work? If nothing else, it provides a seasonal change to the fireplace mantel until we get around to that mini makeover we've been thinking about...

... just as soon as we finish the bathroom updates we started nearly two years ago:

So close!


if SYTYCD was choreographed by kids

My favorite show is on again tonight. I've had some issues with the show the last couple of years, not to mention a newborn who kept me from watching consistently last summer, but it continues to be one of my favorite shows of all time, top in the reality category, and I very much look forward to it each week. A couple of summers ago I started letting my now 6 year old son watch the opening routine. He was pushing his 8 pm bedtime and, as we had no way to record it at that time, causing me to miss the first few minutes of the show. How does that expression go? If you can't fight 'em, join 'em?

Anyway, every year when the show begins I wonder what popular songs since the past season will choreographers use this time around. In the spirit of worlds colliding, what if some of the popular songs from kids' movies over the past year made their way onto the show? I admit I'm living full-time in this kid-friendly popular culture niche, but seriously, there have been an awful lot of songs from kids' movies on the radio lately. Consider, if you will, what the lineup might look like if choreography for the show was up to kids like my son:

Let It Go - Frozen
Okay, this one's pretty obvious, and I'd imagine they'd do a contemporary routine to the Demi Lovato version but it was actually while watching the more Broadway-esque "frozen fractals" moves by Elsa, performed by Idina Menzel, about 2 1/2 minutes into the movie version that got me thinking about all this in the first place. And a quick search on YouTube yields quite a few amateur dancers who've already given it a shot.

And yeah, I know this has already been done on Dancing With The Stars, but you and I both know that doesn't really count. And anyway, their version is so ... obvious. The choreography is actually set to the movie version, so I'll give them that, but pro dancer Peta Murgatroyd is dressed and made up to look like Elsa, which is unnecessary, and really, the choreography should be performed by a soloist, or two girls, like in past finale shows, don't you think?

Everything Is Awesome by Tegan and Sara - The Lego Movie
Like this fitness dance choreo? Well, not exactly. Or this more, uh, artistic interpretation?

Um, no. I'm thinking a little hip hop number by Christopher Scott, perhaps? In the meantime, Chris, enjoy some freestyle moves by local kindergarteners for inspiration.

What Is Love - Rio 2
Maybe a latin ballroom number set to this catchy tune by Janelle MonĂ¡e?

Pompeii by Bastille - Mr. Peabody & Sherman
There was a song in Mr. Peabody & Sherman? Um, yeah. I didn't even see this one but when it came on the radio recently my son asked me to turn it up. When I asked him where he'd heard it he remembered the song from the kid's movie. His favorite part seems to be the "a-o" bit in the chorus. Not sure about choreo on this one - maybe a lyrical hip hop number like this one?

Home by Phillip Phillips - DisneyNature's Bears
The video for this song actually premiered on SYTYCD back in 2012 so it's a no-brainer. And contemporary would be the obvious choice but I could also see some sort of ballroom routine set to this.

Anything you (or your kid) would add?


three cheers for summer camp

After an epic summer vacation kick-off, spending the past month with at least one of my two kids at all times, sometimes both, I'm enjoying some peaceful work time again this week and quickly catching up. Don't get me wrong - I'm lucky and grateful to be able to spend big chunks of time with my kids throughout the year. That's why I do what I do, even if it doesn't make much financial sense some months! But I'm also grateful for summer camp. Amirite, mamas?

First up, I added a new design right before I went into vacation mode last month - a "French country" or "herbal" wedding invitation in sage, moss, and aubergine. Samples are also available. I just sent another new design off to the printer yesterday so stay tuned for that one in about a week or so!

And yesterday, I nominated my business for the Martha Stewart American Made 2014 Awards. I nominated myself a couple of years ago and it's funny, on the one hand, I'm two years wiser in this micro business adventure, but on the other hand, I'm still catching up from my extended maternity leave with baby #2. "Describe your workspace." Um, well, right now I'm typing this at my dining room table. My husband, who also works from home, is across the living room at our one desk, which I occasionally use when I need to print something since that desk is located next to the entryway closet where my printer is stashed. And if I need to fetch an item from my ready-to-send inventory or package up a custom order, I'll head out to my garage, where I store all of the stuff that used to fit into my home office/studio, now my daughter's room. So, yeah, I could really use that $10K. And in general, my attitude in life lately is a little like buying a lottery ticket: you can't win if you don't play, right? Wish me luck!


the hungry toddler: Farley's East

The hungry toddler is back, with an all-new toddler (I almost wrote "new and improved" but I think that would be a little messed up, catchy as it is)! Since "baby" #2 is really a toddler now, I thought it would be fun (and by fun I mean only occasionally miserable) to revive this series of posts, since I started a little too late with child #1, now undeniably a "big kid", a decent eater, and relatively well-behaved at restaurants. Where's the fun in that?! I considered moving this series of blog updates to my more family-oriented blog but these posts are really more about the places we go in and around Oakland, not so much an update on the toddler. Right?

Okay, let's get right to it! This morning I met up with a friend and her budding toddler, just a couple weeks older than my own, at Farley's East in the uptown section of Oakland. Initially we were going to meet at Hive, which I know has a kids' play area (more about Hive in a separate post). Then last night this friend texted me asking if I'd be up for meeting at Farley's East instead, because her husband told her it had a kids' area as well. Wait a minute, was this that place that has the outdoor seating in what is essentially a parking space? I've passed by it several times (in fact, I used to work in this area years ago) - it's always packed to the gills with hipster-types (not that there's anything wrong with that). So I checked the Yelp page on my phone, scrolled down to the "good for kids?" area, saw that that question was answered "no" and decided to do a little more online investigating. Sure enough, I came across this article that mentions the loft area upstairs and a little space with kids' toys, puzzles, and books. Okay, I texted my friend, let's give it a shot!

The coffee shop does indeed have an undeniably hipster vibe to it (but really, what doesn't these days, especially in certain parts of Oakland?), and we got a lot of the typical hipster-encounters-child stares, as if we were toting aliens around on our hips (yes, sometimes I wonder and do a double-take, myself), but other than that I found the more negative reviews to be debunked by what was very friendly counter service, a delicious almond milk latte, and a yummy, if a bit early, salted chocolate chip cookie (I mean, really, what's the difference, calorically speaking, between a cookie and a scone or muffin, right?).

As for the kids' area, it's no Play Cafe. My toddler tripped and bonked her chin on the corner of the coffee table and both kids tried repeatedly to put that zebra, which looks deceptively clean in this image, in their mouths. And this area is right around the corner from the stairs which, obviously, pose a slight hazard to the toddler age group. So, ironically, I too would indicate that it's not so great for kids if I left a review on Yelp. I did, however, file it away under possible places to get a little laptop work in while the toddler's in daycare.


burning bridges: F is for facetious

I've got one more maker in the middle post for you that I'll get to either tomorrow or next Wednesday. Etsy shut down my forum post pretty quickly, citing self-promotion, so only two sellers had a chance to reply before that happened. I guess I can see where they're coming from. And I guess it is a little like complaining about the boss at the office. Actually, it's more like complaining about the office building, or maybe the office manager? I don't know, I'm a little sloppy with my analogies. At any rate, that may be a short-lived series. In the meantime, and in the spirit of potentially burning bridges, I thought it would be fun to take a little stroll down the job section of memory lane since I'm clearly still deciding what I want to be when I grow up.When I was in high school I made the declaration that I wanted to have 20 jobs by the time I was 27 which, in hindsight, is a little nuts! I didn't quite reach that goal, but I've had at least 10 distinct jobs, maybe more depending on how you count different positions at the same place. Skipping over babysitting entirely, let's get started, shall we?

First up is a summer position between junior and senior years of high school. This was one of those high school summer work programs, that paired students with low-paying positions in various locations around Patch Barracks, where we lived at the time. I was assigned to some sort of architectural office and what I remember of the 5 or 6 hours I worked there each day for about six weeks of my summer vacation involves reorganizing their supply closets. Surely I did more than that, right? It was easily one of the most boring jobs I've ever had. After "work" I'd go to the base gym for a couple of hours (really, like, 2 hours!) until my Dad got off work and we'd drive home. There was a real tool of a guy who worked there who kind of gave me a hard time. At one point he laughed and said he was just being facetious. Facetious? I had to look up the meaning of the word and, to this day, I always think of that guy when I hear that word. And I'm not being facetious. Anyway, my career in boring office work had officially begun!

PS: Yes, that's a picture of me from around that time. This image was taken during a soccer tournament, as we waited for our turn to play, but I'd imagine this is how my face looked most of the time I was at this particular summer job.


chalkboard paint rules

Since work is so slow, I'm using some of my daycare time to catch up on the never-ending list of projects around the house. It's a two steps forward, one step back feeling, with two projects popping  up for every one that you successfully cross off the list. But ever since baby #2 was born, it's been simply two steps back, and two more steps back, and so on. You get the idea. So it's nice to have some time, if not the money, to tackle some of these projects.

I've written here before about making over my son's room when he transitioned from a crib to a "big boy bed." Less than three years later, we've tweaked things again, adding an IKEA Expedit bookshelf on one wall for books and toys and a dresser on the other, using his closet now primarily for overflow toy storage.

When we decided to get him a desk for all of his art supplies that were previously in a corner of the living room, I thought it might be fun, if a bit dusty at times, to add a few half-wall areas of chalkboard paint. And it turns out you can get any color of Benjamin Moore paint as chalkboard paint! Awesome!

I asked my son what color he wanted. Initially he said red but I steered him toward a color already in his room's "palette", thinking red against the green might be a bit too ... festive (not to mention intense!). We settled on Ol' Blue Eyes (not to be confused with Old Blue Jeans which is the color the guy at the paint store initially ordered), a shade remarkably close to the blue on the side panel of the loft bed we have in his room (also from IKEA).

I spent a little time each week over the past three weeks doing the actual painting, giving it three coats to sufficiently block out the bright green underneath. After that, it's advised that you let it "cure" for three days, then apply chalk to the entire surface and wipe that down before using it. Wiping with a wet cloth is recommended over a traditional chalkboard eraser and I have to agree, it works really well. It wipes very clean and there is little dust.

In addition to the chalkboard paint, I added some old-school wooden rulers as a decorative trim between the chalkboard paint and the original green wall. I'm pretty pleased with how that turned out. One is tucked behind the bed a bit for now but otherwise I didn't have to do any trimming or cutting. I used brown furniture nails I picked up at my local Ace Hardware store to match the other bits of brown in his room (my least favorite color in his room but I find I keep tying it in to match the brown of his curtains, always trying to use or incorporate what we already have).

I did a fair amount of touch-up of the green color, you know, while I was at it (a kid can be rough on a wall in 2 1/2 years!). To avoid random push pin holes here and there I added three cork board tiles to his closet door (and another one went into little sister's room, previously known as my studio), for random and temporary things he might want on display.

To decorate a bit more, I used a couple of his art projects from this year so far and from preschool, finally installing the flying hamburger we made together a few months ago and using this crazy long snake he made during his last few months of preschool last spring/summer.

When I first unfolded it (I've been keeping a bag of possible art projects to use as decoration - things that wouldn't fit into his box of saved projects or binders of drawings), I thought it would wrap around his wall like a border.

In the end, the snake twists and turns a bit more than I originally anticipated but I made it work and I rather like the way it winds underneath that set of three drawings by Neal, don't you? Hey, man, I paid big bucks for my MFA; it oughtta be good for something, right?

As with most things like this, I think this probably turned out better than a more straight-forward border-like presentation would have been, winding instead under artwork, below his bed, underground and behind his dresser (not really, but that's the look I'm going for here), and winding back out above his bed.

The snake should make for some sweet dreamin', don't you think??