July 4th goodies!

One of the downfalls of where I work is having to work on the 4th of July every year. It’s one of the museum’s biggest programmatic and attendance days, thanks to a huge festival right outside our doors. This year was one of our best years yet, thanks to my demented brilliant idea to have not just one or two activities going on, but four very involved activities. Our estimated reach is about 1,300 people, but may have been upwards of 1,800 (we were too busy to keep count!). All pulled off with our small programming staff of 4.

This year was a bit different for me, because J wasn’t able to go to his dad’s for the 4th, and he had to come to work with mommy. He’s old enough now, and familiar enough with the museum that he was able to safely roam the areas without a problem. The only thing that lessened my guilt for having bore him at mommy’s work was our complimentary VIP fireworks viewing passes from the event coordinators. I’ll be sure to post the videos later, complete with J’s very audible commentary’s of “WOW!”, “NOW THAT’S WHAT I CALL AWESOME!”, and fervent giggles. For now, here’s some AWESOME photos taken from my AWESOME smart phone!

waiting for the fireworks to begin


our amazing view from the VIP section


J lit by fireworks at night 😉

This year I thought I would seize the opportunity of the holiday and make some goodies for our staff working on the 4th. The idea is certainly not my own, so I needn’t receive any credit for it! I did switch it up a little bit to fit what I had on hand and my own aesthetic liking.

Here are my notes/modifications:

  • I used a brownie box kit. No need to be a hero and do it “from scratch” if you’re short on ability, motivation, time.
  • I used foil cupcake wrappers to give it a more “grill” feeling
  • I couldn’t find red sprinkles at the store (and I wasn’t motivated enough to go to one or two others to find it). I did find golden sparkles, but they didn’t look right, so I just used what I had at home, which was yellow.

  • To make the sprinkles stick, I needed to use a little bit of icing. I pushed down the top of the brownies to level them out, dab of icing, toss of some yellow sprinkles, viola, candy cinders.

  • Don’t use Starburst for the kabobs. They are hard as a rock, and very difficult to puncture. Luckily I always keep an abundance of gummy treats for J’s lunches, so I cut up Super Mario and Optimus Prime ;-p.
  • Do use Starburst for the steak. Steaks are red before they are cooked, not brown. Ok, maybe I just forgot to get the caramel candies, but the red Starburst worked out really great. Just cut off a tiny bit of the top right corner, and a long narrow chunk off the lower left. Shape it with your fingers. I had photos, but they are too blurry to use :-(.
  • I put grill marks on all of the “food” using Wilton black gel food coloring. I rarely use liquid food coloring anymore, the gel is 1,000 times better.
  • Rather than piping on icing, I found a bottle of black icing that I just used for the grill lines.

Voila! They tasted just as yummy as they looked! Thanks Betty Crocker! 😉


Silly Monkey

My dear friend is having a baby, and is planning his nursery around a sock monkey theme. When she had her daughter, I painted classic pooh to go with her daughters nursery theme. I love using what talents I have to create things unique to give as gifts instead of purchase something, so my gift for her will be a set of sock monkey paintings.

I’ve completed one so far, and I have 3 more I will do. The canvas’ are small, about 8″x8″. I’ll try and go through the “how-to” in putting this painting together, though it’s a bit more complicated to describe than icing a cupcake :-). Feel free to post any questions and I’ll do my best to elaborate on anything I may leave out.

To start off any work of art, you need an inspiration:

The original fabric is wonderful. An alternative to recreating these cute faces on canvas could be to just stretch the fabric over stretcher strips. These can be purchased at your local craft store. You can also google “stretch my own canvas” for instructions. I’m lazy, so I don’t stretch my own canvas’, but if I ever have the occasion to, I’ll definitely post a how to on the blog.

I chose to paint with acrylic. I enjoy painting in oil the most out of all other mediums, but for what I would consider a relatively simple project, I chose acrylic. I recommend using a mid-range quality of acrylic paint and brushes for the project. Quality paint and brushes are always a wise investment. When you buy the cheaper supplies, not only does your final product not look as best as it should, but you often have to replace cheap brushes because they never last.

One of the things that painters are able to do, and learn to do more with experience, is to see variants of colors in what most people would see as perhaps just one color. One of the OCD things that I do when I paint is take an unnecessary amount of time to mix my colors up to have it match the original. A good artist should never apply a color straight from the tube. Look at the color of the original, study it, notice the differences in hues and tones, and take the extra time to mix up your palette to work with *before* you start anything.

The next step after mixing colors, is to sketch out the image.

I sketched this out using a charcoal pencil. In hindsight, this is not the best to use when painting with acrylic because it blends with the paint. Had I painted using oils, the paint would have simply covered it. The next paintings I will sketch out with a pencil :-).

Next, I painted the largest part of the image, which is the background color. When I looked at the image from the fabric, I noticed hues of brown and various tones of green. Rather than trying to copy it identically, I took the original as a starting point and then created my own background of various hues, shades, tones, [insert other art vocabulary], etc ;-).

As you can see in the tiny tumbnail image next to my painting, the green doesn’t match *exactly*, but that’s ok. Each artist interprets what they see differently, so exact replica’s aren’t necessary.

Next, I filled in the other remaining spaces with a base color. For places like his body, that are several colors, chose one color that stands out to you the most. I can’t remember in my art class days if you were supposed to pick the darkest color you see, or the lightest color. I’m defiant, and tend to chose the mid-range color (unless that’s what you’re really supposed to do). I don’t know that there really is a right or wrong way to choose a base color!

Finally, I added detail and depth, and the cartoonish outlining to finish it all off. I didn’t have a stipple brush to do the monkey’s body, so I improvised using a very small brush and sweeps of the various colors. It was an unnecessarily complicated process, that could have been easily mended with the correct tools that I will be sure to have before I work on the next painting!

I promise to post all of the other paintings as I create them!

Valentine’s day fun!

Another holiday, another great excuse to bake fun cupcakes. Though my patience for crafting seems to have no limits (cue memory of putting together robot‘s for J’s birthday party…), my patience for cooking and baking most certainly does.

I did not bake the cupcakes from scratch. The less work I have to do, the better. Plus, they are kids, and won’t notice much difference.

Not only did I find a shortcut with the boxed cupcakes, I found an icing kit at WalMart that had the icing in the tube, with tips included. BIG fan of skipping steps!

Shortcuts aside, I took my time decorating the cupcakes. Original inspiration here.

I used the included star tip that came with the icing kit to ice the cupcakes. I made the antennae by cutting out mini hearts from some of J’s red construction paper, and gluing a toothpick between two hearts. I could have probably bought them somewhere and saved the unnecessary tediousness, but that wouldn’t be as fun!

To make the eyes, I used Wilton’s confetti sprinkles and black sparkle icing, both leftover from cupcakes I made for J’s Halloween party at school (photo of them at the end). I decided not to put a nose or mouth on the cupcakes because I forgot to make them look more “monster” like.

J loved how they turned out, and his classmates enjoyed them as well. I really didn’t spend a whole lot of time making them. I liked the monster twist. Very much up J’s alley.

Halloween monster cupcakes!
(quite a theme we have going here…)

Officially knit a scarf!

I’ve been officially knitting for over a year now, but I hadn’t completed a scarf before losing interest, or one that I was happy enough with to actually wear.

I found some lovely yarn I had bought 5+ years ago, found this pattern, and set off determined to complete AND wear a scarf I knit. Thankfully the pattern is fabulously easy and quite enjoyable, and I think the scarf turned out great!

The scarf!
For good measure, and cute factor, here’s a photo of J and the scarf I knit him last year :-).
photo by Trish Hummer

Creative Holiday Giving

This year is the first year that my son and I are spending the Holiday mostly at home. Despite original feelings of sadness at the abrupt change, I was able to look at it as a wonderful opportunity for my small little family to begin our own traditions.

I’m a very counter-cultural parent when it comes to holiday norms. We don’t do Santa, Easter bunny, Tooth Fairy, none of it. My philosophy has always been that I want to teach my son the faith that I have. I’ve always felt that teaching him that characters associated with the holidays are real, along side of teaching him that God is real, can be confusing and contradictory. So our holiday is focused on the Christian roots and traditions.

Now that J is older, he’s more inquisitive and more capable of starting to have some understanding of the complexity of the Christmas story. Since entering kindergarten, the ability to avoid the permeating Santa culture was completely thwarted. So we’ve been having significant conversations about why we celebrate Christmas, why we give gifts, the origins of Santa, the story of St. Nick, etc etc.

Much to my delight, I think J has a decent understanding why we as a family celebrate Christmas, and why we give gifts. I was trying to come up with ways to foster the spirit of giving to others, as well as create a family tradition and memory that will outlast all the toys.

Because he’s young, and because I didn’t have a whole lot of planning time to think of elaborate ideas, I decided I wanted us to visit a local rehabilitation hospital that is extremely close to where we live.

So I made the call.

Let me tell you, it’s pretty awkward calling a hospital or the like and saying, I want to do something, and I’m not really sure what, but here’s my general idea, and what I really want to do is help teach my child the blessing of giving to others, blah blah. I rambled and I’m certain sounded pretty nonsensical. No less, I took the plunge. They were passing the message onto those who are capable of making the decisions, and I was left to wait.

I finally received a return call on Tuesday, 3 days prior to Christmas. We discussed some ideas, and came to something J would be capable of doing and they would be capable of safely sharing with their community.

The plan was to make 1 or 2 “cards” to display for the separate wings of the rehab hospital. Perfect. J would be able to do what he likes to do, draw.

When he got home from school on Tuesday, I told him I wanted to talk to him about something very special. We went over again what Christmas was about, and why we give gifts to each other. I asked him about people who are in hospitals. We talked about how they are often sick, and sometimes they are even sad. I told him he had a special opportunity to draw them a nice Christmas picture so that they can look at the picture and feel better and happy. He lit up. He had a mission, and he was going to accomplish it.

So rather than create a card, I took it a couple steps further and had J simply draw a holiday scene using a 12×16″ tablet he got for his birthday. It was a wonderful experience together creating. I taught him how to use different shades of green when coloring his tree so that he had a little bit more depth. I showed him how to draw the ornaments on top of the tree, instead of using a line darting out and drawing the ornament on that line ;-). I showed him how to draw snowflakes, Christmas stockings, gingerbread men, etc. We both had a great time teaching and creating together. I wound up having him create two scenes so that they could display them in both wings of the rehab center (we were on a roll, why not?!).

So Christmas Eve came, and that was the day I had planned on making the trip to deliver his artwork. Initial conversations gave a glimmer that J and I may potentially have the opportunity to visit some of the patients. Having prior experience working in retirement and rehab homes, I know first hand that many people simply enjoy the company of another person. Plus, J just happens to be cute as a button, and who wouldn’t be delighted by a visit from him? When I phoned Christmas eve, they told me that we wouldn’t be able to visit with any patients for health and safety reasons, but they certainly were looking forward to sharing what J has created with the patients.

Though slightly disappointed, I wouldn’t let that hamper what our true hearts intent was; to brighten the holidays for those who may need it. So without an ability to talk with people and explain why we chose to do this, I wrote up a little bio to go along with the artwork, with J’s mugshot for extra cute points.

I mounted the artwork onto black posterboard, and attached his little photo and bio to the bottom of both pieces. Here’s the final product:

So before we left, J and I discussed how we were going to take his pictures to the hospital to make the hurting, sick, and sad people feel better at Christmas time, but we wouldn’t be able to visit them. So off we went.

When we arrived, we went to the main counter, and explained why we were their. I have to tell you, there’s a level of humility in essentially telling folks, “Hi, we’re here to give something to the hospital just because, so here’s our hearts expression, please like it.”

They certainly did. The one lady working the counter seemed to either have extremely limited sight, or be completely blind. After some small talk with us, the capable sighted employee asked if she could read the description to the other employee while we were still there:

“Hi, my name is Jacob. I am 6 years old and am in kindergarten at Pleasant Gap Elementary School. My mommy was teaching me how important it is to give to others at Christmas. Though I may not have much to give, I wanted to share my talents with you. I hope you like the tree, decorations, and presents I drew in my picture. I hope the picture makes you smile and helps you have a special holiday.”

I guess I didn’t realize that my quick little write up could have really been all that great, but standing there, hearing it read back to us, it felt good. Then their reaction made it much more worthwhile.

“This is precious. I just got goose bumps.” “Yeah, I did too. Jacob, our patients are going to love this, you did a wonderful job.”

So I choked back a couple tears.

J seemed to feel good with the compliments of his work. I’m not sure he quite grasps what he did, but regardless, he did something wonderful. Though we won’t be able to see the patients reactions to his gifts, him touching the two employees at the front desk was enough to feel like we did something beyond ourselves. It was good. We did good.

Next year I hope to take more time and come up with ways to give back more than what we did this year. But one of my goals was to start the tradition of giving to others around the holidays. Not focus so much on ourselves, or our petty little struggles but focus on serving other people. Isn’t that what Christmas is all about Charlie Brown?

Hoping everyone has a blessed and happy holiday.

Kindergarten Holiday Festivities

Since my son is now in elementary school, I’ve entered into the realm coming up with things to do for J’s class and teacher.

Much to my delight at his first parent teacher conference, his teacher cited his intensity and interest in drawing and coloring in class. I remember being told stories of how I was the exact same way as a child. How exciting, my child can share in my passion!

So I was looking forward to the opportunity to do something fun for his teacher and class, and as the Holiday’s approached, I began my research.

If there’s anything you learn about me through this little blog, it’s that I google everything under the sun. Having no experience purchasing/making a gift for a teacher, I literally googled what to get a kindergarten teacher! There weren’t any ideas popping up that were striking my fancy, but with persistence and variant search terms, I came to the beginning of a conclusion. The most memorable and cherished gifts teachers receive are hand made.

So the googling begins again, and I came across this. Being short on funds, I brainstormed how to make the idea my own from what supplies I had on hand.

One thing I had on hand was cork board from another project idea left unfinished. I still kept the original idea, of making coasters out of his handprints.

I traced J’s hand onto a piece of cardstock. I cut out the cardstock, and traced it onto the cork. Using a box cutter (which I wouldn’t necessarily recommend), and with a cutting mat or a kitchen cutting board underneath, I carefully cut out each hand. The best way to do this I found was with light pressure and repeating the cuts until you break through the back. I had to be extra careful around the tips of the fingers so that I didn’t accidentally amputate one!

Now the cork board that I used seemed flaky. I’m not sure if it’s because it was old and perhaps dried out, the “quality” of the kind of cork I was working with, or if cork just isn’t made to be cut into obscure shapes. Not sure how to recommend remedying this. There’s a variety of things that one could do. Spray them with a clear coat after they are completed so that they don’t flake anymore, glue a ribbon around the edging, etc.

Once cut out, the hands were adorable. Then I made a mistake. I thought that if I painted them a base white, they would look cleaner, nicer, and it would be easier for J to paint them up and make them his own. Now you may be wondering, won’t the paint bleed and come off when someone puts a cup with condensation on it? Alas, I googled it, and acrylic is waterproof :-).

Once I completely covered the surface of the cork, it looked like lumpy misshapen hands with no real evidence that they were made from cork. So unhappy with their progress, I scratched them 2 days before his last day of school before break.

With no time left to tediously cut out his handprints from cork again, I cut 4 standard normal coasters. I then had J line them up together to form one big box. Then I gave him some paints, a brush, and complete creative freedom to paint what he wanted (with some gentle suggestions here and there).

The only time he’s ok with painting flowers are when he knows its for a girl :-). Flowers were my suggestion, the rest of the decisions were 100% his. I don’t have green acrylic paint, so he improvised. The flowers are growing out of water. We didn’t have yellow for the center of the flowers, so he improvised and was ok with using a pale orange. Once they dried, I took a permanent marker and outlined the seemingly meaningless blobs of color so his teacher would understand what he was trying to portray. J was happy with my modifications. I then had him write his name on the back of each of the 4 coasters. I then wrote the date.

So we separated the 4, and tied them with ribbon. Viola! J has a handmade gift for his teacher!

Now moving onto the rest of his class, I had J draw a card for his classmates. No normal 6yr old would be up for creating 20 separate cards, so I had him work hard on just one card. I then scanned it and printed out 20 color copies of his card. I included a photo of him, and voila, holiday cards for his class! (pardon the poor photo quality)

From what J told me his classmates reactions were and his teachers reaction, his gifts went over well. Creative success!

Christmas photos

I had our Christmas photos taken by my wonderful friend Trish again this year. Of course, they all came out amazing, and I just couldn’t chose ONE photo to have printed to send out in our Christmas cards. Google seems to be my muse, so I began looking up holiday photo cards. I found one that I liked (which, again, I can’t seem to find now to show you!), then opened up Adobe Photoshop to work my knockoff magic.

The process was easy. I chose the 3 photos I liked the most, and then changed the image height on all 3 to match, so they would line up. I obsessed over what font to use, as well as spacing the images apart *just* right. In hindsight, I would have used green for the lines instead of red, because it clashes with J’s scarf (which I knit for him last yr), but I’m also fairly certain I’m the only one who notices that :-). Viola, personalized holiday photo cards!

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