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Monthly Archives: January 2011

clementine game and musings on handmade gifts

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A little school friend of Pia’s had a birthday party today. It is a boy who I don’t know very well and I don’t know his parents very well either. I try to give homemade gifts whenever I can, and figured just because I don’t know them that well doesn’t mean I should chicken out and go the store-bought route, right? Why do I still have the handmade stigma hanging over my head, even after years of giving handmade gifts? Does anyone else feel this way? Is there an unwritten code of conduct about when and where handmade gifts are okay? Is there any occasion when a handmade gift is not appropriate? Oh, the twists and turns in my poor brain. Trying to figure out how other people will perceive things is exhausting.

Anyway. We went the homemade route. I first made one set for Pia as an after-school surprise (that topic will have to be a post of its own soon as it has become quite the issue around here) to see if the idea would be a hit. When it captured her attention for more than 10 minutes I figured I was on to something.

The idea began with the ubiquitous wooden clementine crate. Intended to be throw-away packaging, I suppose, but they are made of wood so they seem too good to throw away (and that last bit, my friends, sums up why my house is such a pit). So, naturally, I hang on to the crates thinking they will be good for something. And it turns out they are good for many things, but in this particular instance they are the basis for a fun little bean bag game: The Great Clementine Bean Bag Toss.  Yes, it is just as noble and fun as it sounds.

I stitched up 15 bean bags about the size of clementines out of textured fabric that I had in my stash and filled them with dried popcorn and lentils. Jim designed a little rule book complete with scorecards. The rules are simple. Divide the clementines evenly amongst the players. Set down the crate. Take three giant steps back. See how many clementines you can get in the crate. It is simple. But bean bag games are fun. I think. And when they aren’t being used as bean bags they can be used in a play kitchen. Or to throw at people.

Now I just have to hope that I haven’t forever stigmatized Pia as the ‘girl who gives handmade gifts, ew’. And when she is 16 and yelling at me she will say “Mom! The reason I have no friends/Johnny dumped me/I didn’t get invited to the cool kid party/I don’t have a date for Homecoming is because you just had to make me give homemade gifts to my friends when I was five. Do you know how uncool that was? You ruined my life!” Or something like that. Alas.


back to my glory days

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Back in my prime I was an awesome ping pong player. Tournament after tournament I ruled the table, always coming out as the victor. It was the one sport I really shone at. Admittedly the tournaments always consisted of my family, and they were doubles tournaments at that, and the finals were always my brother Craig and I defeating my other brother Jeff and our dad. But still, I was awesome.

Sadly, this skill has become quite rusty over the years and recently I was handed a devastating loss at the hands of my nephew. I am no longer in the same league as this younger generation with their lightning quick video-game-honed reflexes, their hours of time to devote to the game, and their castle-like homes that can house a ping-table. This brings me great sorrow. My nephews no longer regard me as the aunt with the mad ping-pong skills. I’m just a washed-up has-been who likes to bring up her last tournament victory (in 1996) a bit too often.

But not anymore!!! While antiquing this weekend with my sister (our new, horribly addictive pastime) I found this:


I know, I know. Ping pong in a box. Two paddles. A net. All in a neat 7 x 13 box which I can put on the shelf when done playing. Genius. No behemoth ping pong table taking up precious basement space for us! Just a clear dining room table (actually a bit of a rarity) and I can hone my skills once again. This may be the best $18 I have ever spent. Even though apparently I overpaid for the item, it more than pays for itself in the space it saves and the fun it promotes.


Watch out Jeff and PG. I smell another victory for Craig and I coming up. Reunion tour 2011!! Woohoo!!

(Andrew, I believe you are still safe as no amount of practicing can make up for my age at this point. Congratulations.)

happy anniversary to us

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Jim and I celebrated our 10-year wedding anniversary today. We had talked about various exotic things we could do to commemorate our decade-long union, you know, things like getting a babysitter and going to a movie (wow!) or leaving Pia with my brother’s family and going out to dinner (crazy!). But it ended up being the three of us at home, enjoying an anniversary dinner of fondue by candlelight. And you know, it was oddly delightful and perfect. Pia was in an extra chipper mood and Jim and I were splitting a bottle of wine (thanks Julie!) and we talked as a family like we rarely do. I mean, we eat dinner together as a family every night, but tonight we talked about memories. Jim and I recounted the highlights of our marriage so far (adopting Pia, traveling to Yosemite, demolishing and rebuilding our house together) and it was cool to think about things that I hadn’t thought of in years. Like during the time when we were demolishing our house and we only had two pieces of furniture. Just two chairs which we would collapse into each evening and eat pizza after drywalling and sanding and pulling zillions of staples out of the hardwood floors. At the time it is just life, but now they are sweet memories.

At one point Pia decided to chime in. “I have a memory,” she said. “I was sad and then they gave me chips.” We had recently been looking at pictures of our adoption trip to Thailand and she saw pictures of herself crying, followed by pictures of herself eating chips. I had explained to her that in the orphanage they would often give her chips to calm down. Chips were her love-y, so to speak. After she shared this “memory” I asked her if she was happy now. She said “yes” and skipped over to the rug where she jumped from circle to circle, “because I am at home now!” Oh, the journeys our children take, and the resilience they show. It always, always brings tears to my eyes. Sad and happy tears, but always tears.

I am so blessed to have an amazing husband and an incredible daughter. And I am grateful for the paths that led us here, to this moment.

a little confession

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I have a bit of a confession. An admission, really. Something that I’ve never really said out loud. Here goes.


There! I said it. It is mildly embarrassing. Sort of like admitting to loving The O.C. Or still having a crush on Adam Brody. Or still loving Hallelujah by Jeff Buckley no matter how overplayed. Hmmm.

Anyway, with the big day right around the corner I had a hankering to make something out of a yard of valentine-ish fabric that Laurie’s mom had given me. It was sitting on the shelf just begging to be used. So I asked Pia’s school teacher if there was anything on her wish list for the room for February. And, swoon, she asked for a mailbag since they convert the play kitchen into a post office at this time of year. Between my love of v-day and my love of the USPS this was a project that had happy! written all over it.

Yes, that is an official Post Office patch. I found it at an antique store a couple weekends ago. The stars were quite neatly aligned for this project. But where is the valentine-ness, you ask? Well, no self respecting mail person would show his hearts on the outside of his bag. But inside, well, that is another story:

It makes me smile now every time I see our Mailman Dave, just thinking that on the inside of his USPS-issued mail bag there are hearts of every shape and size. And really, wasn’t that the real reason behind the creation of the postal service? So people could send love to one another via pony across the miles? I think so.

I had a bit of fabric left over so I stitched some 4×6 squares to cardstock so they could be valentine postcards in the mailbag.

Now back to spending waaaaaayyyyyy too much time thinking of what Pia and I should make for valentines for her classmates. Squeal!  I love Valentines Day!!

Dusting off the sewing machine

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I cannot remember the last time I sewed something.  Thinking….nope.  No idea.

Tomorrow is Pea’s 2nd birthday.  I remembered today that I’d made Tea a birthday crown for his second birthday and that it had been fairly easy, even for a poser sewer like myself.  (Obligatory OH MY GOSH WHERE HAS THE TIME GONE?! statement.)

So during nap time I dug out my stash of felt and, miraculously, found the pattern I’d used for Tea’s crown.  I’d modified it quite heavily – no felt roses or anything, so this time I just changed one of the colors – not my first choice, but they were in the house.  I wanted Pea’s to match his brother’s crown, or I’d have made this cool one I found during my search – it would have even given me a chance to play with the decorative stitches on my machine.  Maybe the boys will destroy outgrow these and I’ll make new ones soon.

I was able to cut the pieces and get half of it sewn before the boys woke up.  Once they were awake, Tea dismantled my sewing room while Pea stood and watched me sew with rapt attention.  I’d forgotten his foster family was a group of seamstresses with sewing machines in their living room.  He must have spent the majority of his first 2 years watching women sew, albeit with much more skill and ease.  I wonder what he was thinking as he saw a sewing machine in action again.

Pea seemed genuinely excited to receive a crown of his own, adding the words “crown” and “wear” to his rather small vocabulary.  Tea was of course inspired to dig out his own crown so they could wear them together.  They spent the rest of the day wearing them, trading them, and putting them on the poor dog.  I’m so, so sorry, Punkin.  But I’m glad I thought to make the crown.  It was an easy project and he’s so happy to have it.

What birthday traditions do you have with your kids?




It didn't take long before Tea wanted in on the action



How old are you going to be tomorrow, Pea?

Total lack of crafty behavior

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I have been in a creative slump.  I didn’t even attempt anything homemade during the holidays, and the only thing remotely interesting that I’ve made in the last month was a snow castle that has already fallen half over, only one day after it’s creation.

I guess I’m knitting something, but it’s more frustrating than creative so I’m pretending that particular project doesn’t exist.

The only thing remotely creative I’ve done is pull out my camera a few times to take pictures of the boys, so I appologize now and warn you to navigate away while you still can – this is just a boring kid pics post.

Pea is getting used to having the camera in his face for obnoxious periods of time and has even started requesting it.  He loves to make faces and then run around to the back of the camera to see just how silly he was.  This is lots of fun for me, but it also means that if I just want a nice, smiling picture of him, I’m totally out of luck.

Tea nails a nice smile on the first shot.

Pea gives me this:

I used to think Tea had a future as the class clown, but he’s got nothing on his brother.  Who is apparently also contagious.

coffee filter snowflakes

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My absolute favorite winter craft to do with kids is making snowflakes because they satisfy the needs of the kids (to be easy) and the needs of me (to enable endless creative happiness). We used to make them out of tissue paper, which works okay, but there is a good amount of prep for those and the paper can tear easily in the hands of a kid. One day, as though a sign from the weather craft gods, a friend gave me some old coffee filters that she couldn’t use because they didn’t fit in her new coffee maker. (I am often the recipient of things people can’t use, but don’t want to throw out, which is sort of lucky for me as I have an endless supply of crafty goods.) The coffee filters didn’t fit in my coffee maker either, but lo and behold they make the perfect snowflake medium. Thin enough to cut, strong enough not to tear and already in a perfect circle shape, so no pre-cutting necessary.

Over Christmas we had a snowflake-cutting contest with Jim’s side of the family. It was a pleasant affair, totally non-competitive, which is a foreign concept to my side of the family. Anyway, the snowflakes shown above are from the contest. I think they reveal telling things about the people who made them. Pia’s is the one on the far left in the middle row. It is simple, with straight line cuts. Another family member, who clearly never took a meteorology class unfolded the pre-folded snowflakes so she could make hers into a four-sided snowflake. My father-in-law, an art education professor, mind you, made the one in the bottom right corner. When questioned about his, um, total lack of snowflake-cutting-skill he replied that “he was trying to do something”. It is unclear what that was.

In the event that you, too, have a coffee maker that has outgrown your supply of coffee filters, here are instructions on how to fold the perfect coffee filter snowflake.

  1. Take one round coffee filter
  2. Fold it in half
  3. Fold in half again, crease, then unfold
  4. Using the crease as your pivot point, fold in one-third of the semi-circle
  5. Again using the crease as your pivot point, fold in a third from the other side of the semi-circle
  6. Fold the resulting cone shape in half
  7. Cut one of the ‘corners’ off the cone (these will be your snowflake points, you can cut the corner straight, zig-zag, curvy, whatever)
  8. Begin to cut away as much of the cone as you like, being sure to leave a bit of filter intact on each side of the cone
  9. Unfold and smile!!