Wednesday, June 30, 2010

Garden Shrinky Dinks

While we're in the garden, I want to show you these tomato labels that I made with Diego a couple of months ago:

They are super easy to make, and seem to be holding up nicely in the water and sun:

Cut a big piece out of an old takeout container that is #6 clear plastic (salad-bar style).

Draw on it with Sharpies or other permanent markers and punch a hole in it.

Open your doors and windows (this is a little stinky and no doubt toxic).

Put it in the oven or toaster oven on parchment paper, foil or a piece of a paper grocery bag at 300˚ and watch closely.  All of the sudden, they will curl, shrink and then flatten out, just like regular shrinky-dinks!

You can use a paperclip to fasten them onto your tomato cages.

Tuesday, June 29, 2010

First Tomato

"It smells of rain and steamy earth and hot June sun.
In the whole tomato garden it's the only ripe one."
-from 'Voyage to the Bunny Planet' by Rosemary Wells

In addition to anticipating the tomatoes, these little babies are giving me such pleasure in the garden right now.  Can you guess what they are?

Okay, I'll give you some hints:

1. Pozole
2. Ume maki
3. Tom Kha Gai
4. Sabzi

Did that help?  Well, you can take a look at this funny guy before I give you the answers:

Doesn't he look like one of Elsita's crazy characters?  Maybe he would be called "Tomatino."  Look how affectionate he is!

Okay, you ready?  The special herbs above are:

1. Epazote
2. Shiso
3. Lemongrass
4. Persian Basil (a.k.a. Lemon Basil)

Did you guess any of them?

Monday, June 28, 2010

Red, White and Blue Popsicle

Here's a popsicle recipe for you that tastes as beautiful as it looks:


Frozen blueberries (the small, sweet ones work best)
1 can Thai style light coconut milk
Maple syrup or other sweetener (optional)
Fresh watermelon

Fill your popsicle molds a little less than 1/3 full with frozen blueberries.  Add enough coconut milk to cover the berries.  Stir them with a spoon or chopstick until the coconut milk is a little colored by the blueberries.  Put them in the freezer for 10 minutes.

Sweeten half of the remaining coconut milk with maple syrup to taste, add it to the popsicle molds on top of the blueberry layer.  Put them in the freezer for another 10 minutes.

Put a big piece of watermelon (without seeds or rind) in a blender with a small amount of coconut milk and blend until smooth.  Pour this on top of the white layer, add your popsicle sticks or lids, and freeze for a couple of hours.

Sit in the sun and enjoy!

Sorry this recipe is coming just a little too late for your big, annual Flag Day whoop-dee-doo, but maybe you can find another appropriate summer occasion for it...

Friday, June 25, 2010

Tiny bow & arrow

Here is a beautiful little toy that you can make out of things that you probably already have in your house:

We have given these as birthday gifts a few times, and they work very well for 4 to 6 year olds.  We put them in a special pouch with 6 arrows, and we use fine point pens to decorate the bow with the child's name.  They require some practice and fine motor coordination.  Contrary to what you saw in that last menacing picture, in our house there is a no-shooting-in-the-direction-of-people-or-pets rule.  Take care, they can shoot a surprising 15-20 feet!

Thursday, June 24, 2010

Best bath toys ever

I was planning to make a little boat for the boys out of old wine corks, but just getting the corks out of the kitchen junk drawer was enough.  Forty of these in the bath tub is riotous fun for a three year old.

Can any of you connoisseurs spot the odd duck?

Tuesday, June 22, 2010

Turdus Maximus

is the Latin name for the Tibetan blackbird.

                                                 Illus. via summagallicana

Is this hilariously funny, or have I just been spending too much time with the potty-training crowd?                                    

Monday, June 21, 2010

My Grandma Mae

There are so many things that I want to tell you about my Grandma Mae.  She was an artist, ceramicist and jewelry maker.  She had a great sense of humor and loved children and chocolate.  She was a 4'8".  She founded a preschool and, after resigning herself to a life of spinsterhood, met and married the love of her life.  She always carried balloons and a roll of pennies when she traveled abroad, so that she would have something to hand out to children.  They seemed to know what was coming, and would flock to her wherever she went.

When my grandfather died, three years after suffering a massive stroke, she was exhausted from being his full-time caregiver.  She promptly signed up for a university year-at-sea course and visited dozens of countries in a whirlwind round-the-world tour.

Upon her return, she told us, "I have decided to spend my money on you while I am still alive.  I want to leave you an inheritance of memories."

When each of us turned 10 years old, she took us on an international adventure.  She used her modest savings and chose trips that related to the interests of her four grandchildren in art, history, animals, and crafts.  My first trip with her was a folk-art weaving tour of Guatemala, and my second, when I was 17, was an art tour of the minority peoples of China.  My brothers went on trips that included Japan, Israel, China, Peru and the Galapagos Islands.

The effect these trips had on us was remarkable.  I was the only ten-year-old I knew who was saving her babysitting money for her next airplane ticket.  Bitten by the travel bug, there is almost nowhere in the world that one of my brothers or I have not gone.  (Have any of you guys been to Antarctica?)

Memories of traveling with my grandmother are more valuable than any other inheritance I can imagine, and I hope someday to be able to pass these jewels along to my own grandchildren.

Friday, June 18, 2010

Cape Party!

Last September, Diego asked for a "Cape and Mask" party for his 5th birthday.  With a brand new baby in the house, we needed to keep it fairly small.  He invited two close friends and their siblings, so we had a total of 6 kids ages 2 through 7.

To prepare for the party, I cut up several old t-shirts into the cape shape.  I made extras, so the kids could choose their color (and because I was ready to repurpose some worn out maternity shirts).  We went to the fabric store, and Diego picked out several scraps of fabrics and lots of trimmings.  He asked me to cut some circles, stars and lightning bolts out of felt and I made a shiny fabric letter for each of our guests.  I cut out mask shapes using craft foam, and assembled sequins, feathers, more trimmings, and elastic for the masks.  This probably sounds like a lot more work than it was!

For the party, I covered a table with kraft paper and put out all of the supplies.  The kids laid out the things they wanted on their capes, and the parents helped them with the glue.  (We used Fabri-Tac fabric glue that was very sticky, so there needed to be a lot of parent involvement with this part.)  Some of them really spent a lot of time on their capes.  The glue dried quickly, I threaded the ribbons through, and the kids started jumping around like crazy!  As you can see, the capes turned out to be beautiful.

Diego's cape is still worn almost daily by him or Ruben, and the mama of these darlings told me that their capes are also in frequent use:

The masks were amazing, too.  We used rubber cement to attach the decorations, and each one was so different from the others.

I love the asymmetric green rick-rack on this one, the way she glued two masks together, cut up a couple of pieces of daisy lace trim to make the flowers, and of course put on the nose pom-pom!  Kids make such cool stuff, don't they?

I plan to make capes with a very large preschool group in the fall.  I want to avoid the really sticky glue, so I think I'll use fabric markers, stencils, fabric paint and iron-ons for the decorations.  This might also be a fun activity for freezer paper stencils.

Wednesday, June 16, 2010

The fastest cape in the sky!

Does your little superhero need a new cape?  Here's a very simple and free way to get off the ground, using things you already have in your house:


If you don't have a crochet hook, you can thread the ribbon through with a safety pin.

Wait!  Come back!  I want to take a picture for my blog!!!

Some tips & tricks:

Stretch the fabric out on the ribbon so it comes together in the front.  This will be more comfortable and look better.  When you have it spread out just right, tie a little bit of the t-shirt hem into a knot in the ribbon on each side, that way the ribbon won't slide out.

I am going to do this project with a preschool class, and I plan to put velcro closures on their ribbons.  (The ribbon tied around the neck makes this cape inappropriate for school, playground or unsupervised play.)  You could also use snaps, or fabric enclosed magnets if you're feeling crafty.

This is the perfect upcycle for that hideous hand-me-down hot pink maternity shirt that you had through three pregnancies and never wore once.

The front and back of the shirt can both be used.  Matching sibling capes?  One for laundry days?

Save the sleeves and collar for other superhero accessories like wristbands, superhero gloves, infinity belts (I'm not sure what they are, but they're always being worn around here), or use the sleeve for a matching mini cape for a favorite doll or toy!

If you don't happen to have a spectacular 23-year-old rainbow tie-dyed t-shirt from your first week of college laying around, you or your little hero can decorate their cape with fabric pens, paint, stencils, or trimmings that you sew on or attach with fabric glue.  They will love it even more if they made it themselves!

Coming soon... photos from our cape-making birthday party!

Tuesday, June 15, 2010

What I want for my birthday... in case you were wondering.

Okay, I know it's more than a month away, but it never hurts to dream, does it?

                                   (photo from Traditional Woodworker via

I saw this little beauty over a year ago on 'Cool Tools,' one of the all-time best places to browse, and I've been longing for it ever since.  I know, I know, I've already got the cordless DeWalt, but sometimes you just want to drill one little hole, or everyone else is asleep and there's some small job to do.  Besides, this may be crazy, but I want to teach the three little guys how to make proper holes in things, and they're years away from being able to hold the DeWalt.

I really don't want this blog to be one of those places that makes you feel crazy with desire for stuff.  I love making and repurposing things, and plan to do lots of posts about that.  But for now, feel free to join me in that 'want-y' feeling when you look at this perfect little hand drill.

Monday, June 14, 2010

My Little Neighbor

This cutie was visiting yesterday, and when I saw his profile against the window, I had to snap this picture.  My big boys were entertaining him so he would hold the pose, and my little guy was on my hip trying to adjust the focus on my camera, but I got what I wanted, in spite of all the help.  I only had to slightly increase the contrast to turn it into this classic silhouette, and then I put him in this oval frame.  I like how it looks so much like cut paper, but it has just a couple of subtle details that show that it is a photo.  What do you think?

Saturday, June 12, 2010

S'mores Kit

We get invited to a lot of birthday parties, and in the interest of keeping things fun and frugal, we've become masters of the under $5 birthday present.  Okay, maybe under $7, but also sometimes totally free!  One thing I've found is that kids always enjoy getting some kind of food treat for their birthday.  One parent told me that her son loved root beer, and you should have seen him hit the roof when Diego handed him a 4-pack of Virgil's at his party.  We've given homemade cookies and candies, and they've always been well received, especially when my kids had a hand in making them.

We made a big batch of homemade marshmallows yesterday, and Diego suggested that we give some to their adorable 5 and 7 year old friends at a brother/sister double birthday party today.  We decided to step it up and make a whole "S'mores Kit."  If this isn't the perfect summer birthday present, I don't know what is.

Chocolate and graham crackers from Trader Joe's, and a couple of take-out chopsticks for toasting the marshmallows at home on the stove top (because who can wait until the next campfire?)

Diego penned the instructions:

Don't you love kindergarten writing?  That's a campfire at the bottom, and an exploded diagram that I outlined for him which he glued on and enhanced.  Of course, we made sure to include enough for their parents, too!

Keep an eye out for the label "Make + Do" for some fabulously frugal projects and activities for the current economy!

Friday, June 11, 2010


Welcome to my blog.  Here are twenty-five random things about me (recycled from Facebook, so please bear with me if you've already read this).  To help us get to know each other, please leave me a comment and tell me something random about you!

1) Someone once described me as “a mellow extrovert.” I think that’s my favorite description of me that I’ve heard.

2) I have always had good friends of many ages. Seriously, like 3 to 100. When I was 29 years old, I flew from NY to California with a great 15 year old friend and then drove him back across the country in an antique car.

3) I got lost on a bicycle in Kunming, China when I was 17. I used a business card from my hotel to find my way back, just showing it to people and riding in the direction that they first pointed until I found a familiar landmark. It was scary.

4) A famous movie star once saw me on television and invited me out for drinks at the Plaza Hotel, where she and her boyfriend asked me if I would photograph their wedding.

5) I always wanted to try traveling alone, but whenever I tried it, I found that within 24 hours I would always find someone to travel with me. I once rented a car with a woman with whom I could barely communicate, just a few hours after meeting her in a hostel in Scotland. We had a great time driving around for a couple of days.

6) I once worked as a geologist for the USGS. I spent a summer in an office on Cape Cod making a geological map of the floor of Southern Lake Michigaaaaaannnnnnnn……. Sorry, I fell asleep just thinking about it.

7) I am totally 100% crazy in love with my husband.

8) Although I really only speak English, I am under the impression that I am “good at languages.”

9) I plan to write a young adult novel some day. I read about 100 of them a year, and I like to think of it as “research.”

10) I shook hands with Bill Clinton before he became president. His hands were remarkably soft.

11) I didn’t go to 11th or 12th grade in high school.

12) In Ullapool, Scotland, I watched a man heat up a piece of cold pizza by deep frying it in a fish & chips fryer. I slipped out before it was my turn to order.

13) From a moving taxi, I once saw Uma Thurman going into a building on the Upper West Side in New York. A few days later, I was sitting in a restaurant in Hollywood with a friend when she walked in and sat a couple of tables away. Ever since, I have wondered how often that happens with less conspicuous people without me noticing.

14) I played varsity ice hockey in college. I was a goalie.

15) When a friend of my parents who I barely knew offered to take me to Greece for a month to stay with his family if I could be ready to go in less than 12 hours, I went.

16) It was at a meeting of the Society of Vertebrate Paleontologists in Austin, Texas, during an overheated 30 minute presentation about the diet evidenced by the canine tooth wear of the Tyrannosaurus, that I first began to question my career choice in paleontology.

17) I’ve never understood why people object to swearing, but I try not to do it around people who I don’t know just in case it bugs them.

18) I have had three
fast home births.

19) I made the world’s first children’s book that was illustrated with Photoshop.

20) I’ve never been in a fight, but have always thought I’d seriously kick ass if I really had to throw down.

21) I was in my apartment less than 30 blocks away from the twin towers when they came down. A surprising number of the friends I have made in LA were only a few blocks away from me at the time.

22) I am skeptical, overconfident and optimistic and I have theories and opinions about almost everything.

23) I always looked forward to being a mother, but I am blown away by how much I love my kids.

24) Some more travel highlights (is this cheating if I list this as only one thing?): I’ve been in all of the lower 48 states. I drank tea in a yurt in Inner Mongolia, watched the sunrise from a smoking volcano in Java, walked on the Great Wall, visited the homes of weavers in Guatemala, got chased by a bull on my 20th birthday in Rosebud, Montana, saw the private family photos of Frida & Diego in Juan Rivera’s home in Mexico, ate & drank & drank with a troupe of circus performers in France, studied geology all over the American Southwest, Montana, Wyoming, and South Dakota, wandered around the Minoan ruins of Crete with one brother, and Stonehenge with another, went to Kung-Fu retreats in France, Indonesia, Germany and California, snorkeled in Bali and Venezuela, ate the best dinner of my life in Tokyo, watched Shamans faith-healing in Chiapas, and hitch-hiked all over New Zealand.

25) I saw crows in all of those places.