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Friday, February 26, 2010

Friday Feature -- The Creative Block & Findings

This week's featured Etsy artist is the owner of two shops: The Creative Block and Findings. I had a great time exploring both these shops! Isn't this bracelet pretty?

(Plus I learned a new vocabulary word -- guilloche -- while reading the description, which is always fun!)

And I particularly appreciated the "Ripe for Recycling" section of Findings, where you'll find such treasures like these vintage enameled square links (which are even on sale!)

Enjoy the interview!

1. Please tell us about the items in your Etsy shop. What do you make? How did you learn your craft? What is involved in your creative process?

At The Creative Block I sell my own jewelry and dolls, plus a few vintage pieces and occasional things like exceptional stone carved pendants from other countries and old carvings and castings, mostly from Asia.

Some day I will also post some of my crocheted and knitted, as well as recycled, clothing and accessories, but I haven’t had much time for those lately.

I used to be a weaver, and studied with Sharon Wheat, a truly amazing artist, for several years, as well as a term with Neda Al-Hilali but aging has reduced my wrist strength and flexibility to a point where I can no longer do that. I’ve taken workshops and classes in batik, dyeing, fabric painting, and doll-making here and there over the years as well. I’ve also taught myself a lot from books and magazines.

I’ve been making dolls as long as I can remember, and started designing and sewing clothes for them at age 10, taught by my aunt, a sculptor, ceramicist, wallpaper and fabric designer, summer camp arts counselor, etc., who also taught me some basic clay modeling techniques.

I started crocheting at 7—my mother worked and I saw our housekeeper making lace edgings and asked to learn. I don’t think I’ ve made a lace edging since, and am now a dyed-in-the-wool freeformer, but it was a very helpful start.

I taught myself to knit, largely because I’m left-handed and couldn’t find a teacher. I used a basic text with pictures and just turned it upside down. Now I teach right-handers by sitting across from them & playing mirror-image. I started knitting because weaving isn’t especially portable and I wanted a way to keep my hands busy at parties, I designed and sold knitted and crocheted garments, and won ribbons at county fairs as well as admission to juried shows and occasional prizes with them, but the commissions and other sales were more fun.

I can’t remember when I started actually making jewelry rather than just stringing beads, but I suspect my aunt, who lived with us for several months when I was 10 and again for about a year and a half starting when I was 13, had a hand in it. My father had taught me to use hand tools, including pliers as well as a hammer and saw, at around 6 or 7, so I had some basic skills that just needed direction.

I don’t think I started designing dolls until I was in my 20s or so, and even now I sometimes start with a basic pattern or even a body to use as an armature (one of my favorites is a “Frog Went a Courting” doll built on a multiply-jointed superhero).

In my 20s I also tie-dyed fabric & designed clothes made of it which, along with my dolls and some of my ceramic pipes, were sold at a gallery called “A Fly Can’t Bird But a Bird Can Fly” in New York.

Since then I’ve sold off and on in various stores and galleries in New York, California, and Washington, where I live (but am not selling anywhere but on etsy and the occasional craft fair) now.

Now I’m almost 65, and my knitting and crocheting are limited by carpal tunnel syndrome and arthritis, but I still do some. Luckily, jewelry making and sewing seem to use a different set of muscles, so I can still do those fairly freely.

2. To which Etsy Teams do you belong?

At The Creative Block: etsyBead, JET(Jewelry on etsy Team),EGADS (etsy Guild for Art Dolls and Such, EAST (Earthpath Artisans Street Team), etsyBeadWeavers Team, mini-makers Team

At Findings: ESST (etsy Supplies Street Team)

At both: etsyMOM, etsyChai (the Jewish Team), etsyTrashion Team, paganteam, freethinkers team

3. How did you get involved with Etsy?

My friend Laura Kane (who makes amazing fantasy dolls) opened her shop on Etsy and was so enthusiastic that she convinced me to do likewise. She also got me involved in some teams once I got here. That was The Creative Block, of course, in April of 2006, though I didn’t actually list anything for around 6 months.

Then in 2008 we did an Artists’ Garage Sale sponsored by our city arts dept, and made more in one day selling supplies than we ever had at a weekend crafts fair, so decided to take it online and opened Findings that June. It’s been extremely successful, pretty much breaking even after its first year.

There seems to be a much broader and steadier market for materials than for finished work, and I’d guess it helps that I price many, maybe most, of the items at Findings at $5-, don’t list anything I wouldn’t use but try not to duplicate the big retail sellers, and provide really good personal service and fast shipping. All of which of course takes time away from my own work even as it pays for my materials.

4. What inspires your creations?

Just about anything—sometimes just playing with all those wonderful materials, sometimes a poem or some phrase heard in passing. Sometimes I wake up with a piece in my head and then of course I’m compelled to make it, not always quickly or easily, but until it’s right.

I’ve done several interpretations, in both jewelry and beaded fabric sculpture, of “Overheard on a Saltmarsh” a poem by H. Monro, and finally think I’ve got it (in fabric sculpture—I think there’s an album on my Picturetrail.)

Last year we went to Paris, where I fell in love with the work of Niki de Saint Phalle—it’s colorful, sensuous, and features large women, including a series of “Dancing Nanas” that really resonates for me. I think that influence will be showing up in my work for awhile.

I also took a week-long workshop with Marlaine Verhelst, a Dutch doll sculptor whose work I admire. I wanted to improve my technique for sculpting heads and hands, and also got feet and some really good tricks and shortcuts from the class, which was intense but a lot of fun, as was the very international student group.

5. What is your biggest challenge related to your Etsy shop?

With The Creative Block, keeping myself motivated enough to make time to produce and list when nothing is selling.

With Findings, to keep sourcing new and interesting things while maintaining an adequate stock of reliably-selling items & getting it all listed.

6. What is your favorite item in your shop (currently for sale or previously sold)? Why is it your favorite?

That’s a hard one. I did sell a steampunk piece called “Watch the Eye” that was my shop banner and is still on my cards, but my current favorites (besides my steampunkin earrings) are probably the Midnight Garden brooch, which features a carved jasper flower and a rainbow tourmaline dewdrop, both from China, and a handcast brass spider from Thailand and “Colorblind Hummingbird Finds Nectar in Dark Blossoms”, a partially recycled necklace with a disability-related theme.

7. What advice do you have for other folks selling or buying on Etsy?

Do it! Join teams, list often, and be prepared for long periods of inactivity.
Don’t quit your day job, but do find a niche you can fill.

8. Tell us two (or more) other interesting things about you.

I’m mom to 5 now-adult kids adopted from foster care at ages between 8 and 14, and have 5 actual grands and at least that many sort-of grands.

I’ve taught everything from kindergarten to college in places as diverse as Brooklyn, NY, Berkeley, CA, Port Townsend, WA, and several cities in China.

My husband and I will both turn 65 in the next 6 mos and will have been together for 40 years. We are CouchSurfers, and have traveled in Europe as well as the US and done a lot of hosting, too.

9. Where else can we find out more about you and/or your creations?

Facebook (although my husband’s more active on my account there than I am)


And I’ve just started a blog

Plus my husband, Seth Watkins, who’s an award-winning photographer, and I have a shop on zazzle--

Wednesday, February 24, 2010

One Month Later

It's been a month now that we've been in the apartment, and things are starting to feel fairly settled. Most everything is out of boxes. The kids' play room and bedroom are both all but finished. (Just have earthquake-proofing to do -- and hanging pictures, if we decide to do that.) We've acquired a new dining table (thank you, Craigslist!) and made the required trip to IKEA. And only four weekends have gone by since we moved in!

There is still a lot of work to do, especially at the old house. Still have to finish moving out, to start with -- lots of stuff to go into storage and to get rid of -- and then we'll need to decide if we plan to rent or sell the place. But considering that we're working on KT (kid time) which means that much of the work has to happen on the weekends, and considering that S was out of town for one long weekend and we lost much of another to the luxury of celebrating his birthday.... we're not doing too badly.

I have to keep reminding myself of that. I knew it would be a long process. But it's hard to look at the calendar, realize it's nearly March, and comprehend the amount of work left to do. But a month into our new home, many of the worries I had about the move have all but disappeared. It's working out remarkably well. Fingers crossed -- may that continue!

Monday, February 22, 2010

The Cursed Cake

Yesterday was S's birthday: many happy returns of the day to you, my sweet! Alas, I was not able to give my hubby the sort of birthday weekend that I would have liked.

Granted, we'd gone out to celebrate his birthday as adults on Saturday and had a very nice time. We lined up a babysitter so that we could go see Avatar together. Not my kind of film, but that's what he wanted to do, so I was happy to oblige. Even got dressed up a bit for the occasion. After having adult time on Saturday, Sunday was reserved for the family celebration.

The plan was for me and the kids to make him an angel food cake in the morning and order Thai take out for dinner, both at S's request. No problem, I figured. I'd found time to go buy an angel food cake pan (since our old one had been tossed when packing up for the move; it had rusted out and needed to be replaced) and simply needed to walk across the street to the Safeway to buy a box of mix on Sunday morning. (Because while I enjoy baking from scratch, angel food cake in my opinion is one of those cost/benefit situations where the results from mix are good enough to justify not having to separate a dozen eggs with the "help" of a 3 year old and a 4 year old.) Well, guess which Safeway does not sell angel food cake mix?

That's right. When I sought the help of one of the employees, figuring that surely I was just overlooking it on the shelf, they informed me that they hadn't carried angel food cake mix in quite some time. Devil's food, white, yellow, chocolate, even spice cake mixes -- but not angel food. Cripes. What kind of grocery store doesn't carry angel food cake mix???

(Answer: a Safeway that has been remodeled almost exclusively to meet the needs and desires of a college student demographic. They are, after all, right across the street from the university. Which means, apparently, lots of single serving frozen food, an extensive beer and liquor selection, and no angel food cake. Who knew?)

"I'm very sorry, Ma'am. But you could always purchase one that we have pre-made in the bakery?" The young lady was trying to be helpful, but I'd promised the kids that we would make Dad's birthday cake together, so coming home with a pre-made cake wasn't going to work. So I purchased a white cake mix and chocolate frosting and headed out for the three minute walk home. (In the rain, I might add.) I tried not to take out my frustration on poor S, who very kindly turned down my offer to drive over to the other Safeway about 2 miles away in search of the correct type of cake mix. So I got started on the white cake with the "help" of the kids, making 2 pans of cake for a nice little layered creation.

Let's just say that BJ was already not having his best morning ever. It culminated in him needing repeatedly to be right in the center of everything -- grabbing what he shouldn't, not listening to directions -- and then him smashing his arm into one entire pan of cooled baked cake. It was broken up into half a dozen pieces. Sigh. While he went to time out, I worked on gluing everything back together with chocolate frosting. The end result was a bit lumpy and less than attractive, but better looking that it might have been. And tasted pretty yummy.

Thank goodness S is a forgiving and tolerant individual. He was very sweet about his less than perfect cake.

I hope he is as understanding about the fact that this morning BB had her own example of the I Won't Listen To What Mommy Says phenomenon that is so prevalent in the household right now. Which ended up in her knocking all of the leftover cake off of the kitchen counter. Icing side down onto the kitchen floor.

S, honey, it seems that your cake this year just wasn't meant to be! I hope your wishes all come true, in spite of your cursed birthday cake.

Friday, February 19, 2010

Friday Feature -- Alchemist Art & World Vintage

This week's featured Etsy artist is Denise, who runs 2 shops: Alchemist Art (handmade items and artwork) and World Vintage (vintage clothing and books). I loved exploring both her shops and especially enjoyed some of the finds among her vintage. They say turquoise is all the rage right now, and it's long been one of my favorite colors, so I was particularly taken with this fabulous vintage 1960's dress.

And check out this faux turquoise necklace!

Enjoy the interview!

1. Please tell us about the items in your Etsy shop. What do you make? How did you learn your craft? What is involved in your creative process?

I make mixed media pieces, dye and paint silk scarves and cotton bandanas, and I've recently started knitting.

I don't know what my creative process is, to be honest. About two years ago I just started painting--I was a creative writing major as an undergraduate, but I hadn't felt creative in years. I think it just burst out of me. My most successful pieces, I think, are those that begin with the question "I wonder what would happen if I did..." I've learned a lot from experimenting and from reading, and the encouragement I get from being accepted into art shows is rewarding enough to make me keep experimenting. I'm still very much a novice.

2. To which Etsy Teams do you belong?

I belong to Etsy Moms, Fashion Design Lifestyle, vintage market, and ACEtsy. I think the teams are one of the best things about selling on etsy. Even though I've never met any of the team members, everyone is very supportive.

3. How did you get involved with Etsy?

I had sold a painting and was trying to figure out ways to market what I do. I saw a reference to etsy in a magazine, looked it up, and I loved what I saw.

4. What inspires your creations?

Color and texture and the desire to recreate it or transform it.

5. What is your biggest challenge related to your Etsy shop?

Time is probably number one. I work full-time outside of etsy, and it's hard to put the time in to maintaining it. The second challenge is getting good photos. I'm still working on that.

6. What is your favorite item in your shop (currently for sale or previously sold)? Why is it your favorite?

My current favorite at Alchemist Art is my painting, Forest for the Trees. I love the texture and colors in it, and it came about in a very organic way: after putting paper on the canvas, I dripped paint on it to see what would come out of it. This is a piece you want to touch when you see it in person.

At World Vintage, my favorite piece is a vintage royal blue dress with elaborate cord detail down the front. I'm a sucker for that kind of embellishment. If this dress fit me I would not be selling it!

(Note from Jen: the dress has been sold to some lucky someone! No wonder, it's so gorgeous!)

7. What advice do you have for other folks selling or buying on Etsy?

I don't know if I'm someone to give advice--I feel very much like a novice although I've been on for about a year. I guess one piece of advice is to seek out teams that may give you a sense of community. Oh, and get good photos! :-)

8. Tell us two (or more) other interesting things about you.

Well, I'm a university Spanish professor, am married with 2 great kids, 2 nutty dogs, and 3 cats who tolerate the humans in their lives. I guess my hobby is making things, although I've been a bit slow in that respect lately. I was very proud to win a purchase award, though, for my mixed media piece, Road Map, at the National Juried Arts Show sponsored by the South Cobb Arts Alliance near Atlanta, GA.

9. Where else can we find out more about you and/or your creations?

Blog: I haven't been very active with this blog lately, though. As I write here, however, I"m feeling somewhat inspired to get back to it.

I also have a fan page on facebook and I'm on twitter at

Wednesday, February 17, 2010

Two Penny Toll

We continue to enjoy walking around campus and have identified some favorite spots. There's "The Hill" in front of the library, which the kids already knew about, from previous campus visits, and though it's not much more than a little bump, they still love to roll down and run around it. Every time we walk to or from BJ's preschool, we pass a lovely fountain, and I've taken to making sure that I have at least two coins in my pocket for these trips.

Here are the kids paying the two penny toll and making their wishes:

They don't believe that saying a wish aloud makes it less likely to come true -- in fact, they shout out their wishes for all to hear. Recent wishes include: an aquarium with jellyfish (BJ), a unicorn (BB), a fountain (BJ), and a dog (BB). Of such things are the magic of childhood made, and if you ask me it's a steal at only two cents. Even if it adds up to a dime or more a week!

Saturday, February 13, 2010

Heart-Full Heart Day Party

Yesterday, BJ's preschool had their Valentine's Day party, so all of us walked over to attend. (Let me say again how nice it is to be able to walk there now!) BJ only goes to preschool on Tuesdays and Thursdays, so we would only be staying for the party. S had to teach at 10:30, so he was only able to be there for a little while, but it was nice to have the whole family there for a bit.

I was amazed at how well the kids behaved. All of the kids, really! They were excited, of course, but not unruly. Their teacher did a great job of organizing everything and keeping some kids occupied while others were delivering valentines to the cereal-box mailboxes the kids had made. It helped too that many of the parents had come to participate in the party. Even so, I was impressed. And I was so proud of BJ -- he's come so far to be so comfortable at preschool!

After a little coaxing, BJ let BB help him deliver some of the valentines he had made. He had a great time going around and putting them in the right boxes.

I'd worried that BB would feel left out, with all the goodies being passed around and none for her. But I told her that when she's a bit bigger and going to preschool, then she'll do things like Valentine's Day parties. She accepted that explanation without any problem at all. (We'd like to start her soon, certainly by summer. Just a matter of everything working its way out, including family finances and a spot opening up at the school.)

The teacher had the kids deliver their valentines in batches, so those who were not delivering were sitting on the circle time rug to listen to stories and sing songs. When we'd finished, we joined the group on the rug. And I had one of those heart-full Mommy Moments that are so wonderful (if a little embarassing).

There's something about adults singing with children, especially parents with kids -- especially somewhat sentimental songs -- that really chokes me up. For me, it gets at something fundamentally beautiful and true about how hard most folks try to be good with the little ones in their lives. So when the teacher pulled out one of the classroom favorites for the kids to sing along and plunked in the CD, I should have known what was coming.

But even so, I was surprised to find myself openly weeping as the kids and parents sang John Denver's "Country Roads." It just squoze my heart to see my little guy singing with such abandon -- and to see my little girl trying her best to sing along -- and to witness all the grown ups with kids in their laps, joining in the chorus. Good thing the teacher's desk with a box of tissues was right there alongside where I was sitting! So I grabbed a Kleenex and sang through my tears with a big smile on my face.

And then we got to the important business of opening BJ's valentines!

Friday, February 12, 2010

Friday Feature -- Tilt Creations & Tilt Too

This week's featured Etsy artist is the owner of not one but two great Etsy shops -- Tilt Creations and Tilt Too. She's also the Etsyblogger of the month for February! Congratulations, Theresa!

I really like this casual backpack -- the colors are such fun!

And this clutch would be perfect with a Valentine's outfit. Plus, it's on sale!

Enjoy the interview!

1. Please tell us about the items in your Etsy shop. What do you make? How did you learn your craft? What is involved in your creative process?

I make handbags, purses, backpacks, messengers bags, clutches, zip pouches....I am starting to narrow my focus to backpacks, clutches and coordinating zip pouches. Along with these I will (slowly) be adding more home products such as quilts, table runners, coasters, pillows, embroidery piecs, etc.....maybe even painting.

I am self taught, unless you want to count that one home-ec class back in 7th grade in the early 80s...I mean, let's just say a while back :) When my oldest was about 3 he wanted to be Robin Hood for Halloween but I could not find a costume, so I just made one....then I got hooked. He's too old for costumes now, but I still sew.....same machine too.

2. To which Etsy Teams do you belong (if any)?


M.I.C.E. (Michigan Indie Crafters of Etsy) BDC (Big Damn of Firefly & Serenity) Etsymoms (although i have not been as active as I would like)

3. How did you get involved with Etsy?

I think the main reason was a push from friends & family to start selling. It may be possible they were just tired of all the bags they kept getting as gifts, who knows :P But I started reading up on selling crafts and this "Etsy" place kept popping up in all my resources - so I checked it out - shopped a bit there - liked it - and opened shop.

4. What inspires your creations?

I really do not know. Every creation is different. Some bags come from a "I need something to do X" I make one.

5. What is your biggest challenge related to your Etsy shop?

Pictures. My house has horrible lighting - even with added lamps that are supposed to work well - and no blank wall for a nice background. But I make, I am getting to be good friends with my editing program :) And time. Time to list & promote...I fall short most days.

6. What is your favorite item in your shop (currently for sale or previously sold)? Why is it your favorite?

I love my Buffy messenger bag. It took FOREVER to embroider, but so worth it. It has been gathering cobwebs in the shop, so I may just snag it for myself, we'll see.

7. What advice do you have for other folks selling or buying on Etsy?

Don't give up. I hear so many people grumble when they don't start selling right away or "only" sell one thing a week. Etsy is a big - huge - giant - place. It can take time. Get to know the place & the people. Join teams. Tweek when necessary - change up pics, tags, promotions & sales. I spend lots of time searching for items to promote on my treasury's a great way to understand the search engine so you can better tag your items for others to find.

8. Tell us two (or more) other interesting things about you.

Interesting? Hmmmm....I used to be in the sciences...after I stopped studying art early on in my college career. I love to paint, but am not very good. So I thought I'd just keep the brushes to myself & switched to biology...another love of mine that has more job possibilities. I studied immunolgy/microbiology at the PhD level and worked cardiac rehab as an exercise scientist. Quite different from what I do now - mom and crafter. After I spent 6 months on bedrest with my youngest, I decided to stay home until he is in school all day. One more year to go. Crafting has kept my sanity.

9. Where else can we find out more about you and/or your creations?


Crafts, kids, home & life

Tilts creations

My treasury blog: Tilt Treasures

My giveaway finds blog: Tilt's Giveaway Finds

Facebook: me:

my fan page:




10. Is there anything else you'd like to tell us about your shop or your work?

I do custom work as well. While I am going to be focusing on the backpacks & clutches, I will work with someone who may be interested in another bag of mine. I will also be creating more works with hand embroidery & painting sometime in the Spring.

Wednesday, February 10, 2010

Lazarus Cat

It's interesting how keeping a blog can keep you honest. Recently, as our cat Socks has been having trouble, I've been saying, "Well, we're just glad he's still here -- about 2 years ago he was given six weeks to live...."

Then I started thinking about this, went back and checked some posts, and discovered that it was in the spring of 2007 that the vet gave her initial diagnosis. Not the spring of 2008. So it's almost THREE years ago that we were told he was terminal.

And we wonder why my husband calls him the Lazarus Cat?

We're not 100% sure that it's bone cancer, since we didn't put the cat through a biopsy, but that's the vet's best guess. Whatever tumor is in his leg, it's been growing, and it's been having more and more ill effects. Using the cat box is basically no longer an option, whether that's because he has too much difficulty getting into the box (even though we've made it as easy for him as possible) or because he just can't control it anymore. Cleaning up cat feces and urine has become routine, and these days when he's indoors we have to limit him to the bathroom (which, happily, is quite sizeable in our new apartment).

Then, a few days ago, he peed in his own food, which was extraordinary behavior even for him. So S took him to the vet yesterday and got him checked out.

This is the same vet who thought the cat would have passed away nearly 3 years ago now. One of the reasons I like her so much is that she's able to be happy she was wrong instead of getting upset that she was wrong out of some twisted sense of professional honor. Another reason is that she's been very understanding about our reluctance to use heroic measures. She gives us a range of options (when we first found the tumor, she recommended amputation and chemo -- not an option) and then lets us decide the best approach, without making us feel guilty. We ended up medicating him at first, when it seemed to be helping, then taking him off the meds when it was clear he'd be around longer than we'd thought (and when it was therefore a likely possibility that the meds would kill him instead of the tumor). He's been off medications for at least a year, and during that time he's been losing weight, limping around, having "inappropriate elimination" issues -- but also still loving, purring, enjoying life. Doing remarkably well, all told.

Up until the peeing in the food, that is.

I was all set, emotionally, for the vet to tell S, "It's time." I was prepared for her to tell us that he was in a lot of pain and that it would be kinder to let him go. Bone cancer is supposed to be excruciatingly painful. I think S was feeling the same. So it was with great relief that I heard his report last night: the cat has lost 4 pounds (dropping from 17 to 14 pounds) and the tumor is pronounced (it looks like there is a sizeable orange in his back leg) so yes, he's not well. But the bone has not fractured, and most importantly he does not seem to be in much pain at all. The vet was able to examine him and press into the tumor and check out the entire leg without it causing him hardly any distress. She said his affected paw was very cold, so there may be some circulatory issues. Who knows --perhaps the tumor has grown enough to be affecting nerves and/or causing numbness? For whatever reason, it's a comfort to know that he's not in agony (as best one can tell with an animal, anyway).

Bone cancer in cats is, apparently, quite rare. She's said more than once that we're off the map with all this, and she's based what predictions she 's made (like 6 weeks to live) on the prognosis for dogs. The bottom line is that the vet was amazed that he is doing so well, and so are we!

It turns out that he has a UTI, which is her best guess for what's caused the peeing in the food, so we'll be having to pill the cat twice a day with antibiotics for the next two weeks.... not a fun proposition. But considering that I really thought I'd be planning a cat funeral for the near future, it doesn't sound so bad. For now, we're just grateful for every day we continue to have our Lazarus Cat in our lives.

Tuesday, February 9, 2010

Snow White the Cannibal Mermaid Princess

Just when I was starting to worry that BB's interest in Disney Princess Dolls might be leading her to stereotypically gendered behaviors and beliefs that were less than desirable -- she discovered two things. First, the dolls are not defined solely by what they wear. They can trade outfits! This was truly a revelation to her.

Second, she showed me that the princesses didn't have to do princess-ey things. We were playing together with the princess dolls, dressing and undressing them and serving them tea, when she suddenly grabbed Snow White (who was dressed up like a mermaid) and declared, "Watch out! I'm going to eat you!" Snow White the Cannibal Mermaid then proceeded to chase around Ariel, Belle, and Cinderella, shouting and laughing, "Yum! Yum! YUM!!!"

She ran around with the black haired villain while my job was to make the other princesses shriek and run away until everyone finally fell together in an exhausted heap.

Mermaid Princess? OK. Cannibal Princess? Have to say I didn't see that one coming. (Though as I write this, I'm having fond thoughts of Margaret Atwood's essay about Barbie. It's titled "The Female Body," I think? Great piece. Too bad that book is still in a box, or I'd look it up!)


This round of the Etsyblogger carnival asks which childhood traditions are now being carried out with the kids, and we've been quite busy with Valentine's Day preparations, so I thought I'd share a little with you. Like many, we prefer handmade valentines. After a Michael's trip for supplies, we had a fun crafty morning with paper, glitter glue, stickers, doilies, and markers.

BJ had 20 valentines to make for his preschool class, and I was pleased to see his enthusiasm for such a large project. I cut out the paper hearts and pieces of ribbon (and tied a few bows) and helped a bit with gluing. But he and BB did the rest. Here is a sampling of the results!

Those are the 20 that he made for his class. We've addressed the envelopes and now just have to seal everything up once the mountains of glitter glue have dried.

Both kids are really enjoying the holiday preparation. BJ took it upon himself to write a valentine poem tonight after dinner. Sat down at the computer and typed up this:


He asked for help spelling whales and snails (and getting the exclamation point to work) but otherwise it's entirely his. Too cute, though I say it myself!

I hope to make heart-shaped gingerbread cookies with the kids as well -- BB has been asking for those (with pink sprinkles). Happily, the kitchen is mostly unpacked, so I think I'll be able to manage it.

S and I don't do much in the way of elaborate Valentine's Day plans, which is truly fine with me, so most of the celebrating will happen with the kids. BJ has his preschool party on Friday. It's good to know we won't be working on 20 valentines last minute!

Monday, February 8, 2010

The Great Celery Experiment and Other Science Stuff

BJ's love of science continues to flourish, which is great fun to see. (Among other bonuses in the new apartment: one of our neighbors is a neurobiology professor. When we moved in, BJ was so thrilled to meet a scientist who would also be our neighbor that he nearly burst with joy). As S put it, for BJ scientists are far cooler than rock stars. (I have to agree -- and not just because I spent a year and a half as a biotechnology major in college!)

Have I mentioned that a significant number of BJ's conversations these days start with the phrase, "And when I'm a scientist...."

Some time ago, I scored a huge set of previously owned Magic School Bus books, more than 20 titles. (They aren't all of the same quality -- the originals by Joanna Cole and Bruce Degan far surpass the made-for-TV narratives under the Scholastic authorship, in my opinion. But my analysis of all that is better saved for a separate post. In truth, BJ doesn't care which ones are originals and which ones are adapted from the TV series. He loves them all.) We'd been doling them out a book or two at a time, and then when we moved into the new place I put the rest of them on the shelf. The moment BJ discovered them was definitely one of the highlights of the entire move-in process. He spread them out all over the floor and examined each with great excitement.

He's clearly been learning a lot from the books. He's developed an intense fascination with human biology, thanks to The Magic School bus Inside the Human Body (with a soundtrack credit to TMBG's The Bloodmobile, which he has memorized. Actually, both kids love to sing it!) Many times now, he's taken it upon himself to systematically re-create the organ systems by sculpting them in play-doh. He'd done it several times before I finally managed to get a picture.

He is very exacting about replicating the chart of the human body from the Magic School bus book -- that's what is open on the table above. He molds each "organ" carefully and then puts it in its proper place. It's a far cry from a to-scale model, but not bad for a four-year-old!

The very first time he undertook this activity, he used colored clay that he had convinced Auntie L to buy at the CDM. As best I can tell, he asked her to buy it for him with exactly this purpose in mind. I finally got a pic of the clay version in process over the weekend:

His preschool teacher, who is currently going back to school for a degree in nutrition, joked with me last week that when she gets to her anatomy classes she'll be asking BJ for tutoring. It tickles me to no end that his enthusiasms are so firmly based in wanting to know things -- whether that's numbers and letters (which he still loves) or the names of the chambers of the heart. He's declared that he wants his fifth birthday to have a Human Body theme. Should make for an interesting cake if he holds to that.... Personally, I'd prefer the outer space theme that he suggested a few months back. The planets are still pretty popular, so perhaps he'll change his mind once more. We'll see.

While S was out of town, BJ kept asking me, "Mom! Can we do a science experiment?" I'm sure much of this has to do with the fact that the Magic School bus books include activities and experiments for the kids to do. He would love nothing more than to replicate exactly every activity in every book. I don't have the resources for that, but I'm happy to encourage his interests when it's possible. For example, he wanted to do an experiment that he'd read about in one of the books, involving a white carnation and a cup full of colored water. I didn't have carnations on hand, but I had a vague memory that the same principle might work with celery.

A quick Google search brought up The Great Celery Experiment, which had easy instructions and confirmed my thinking that celery would work in place of a flower. (My mom informed me that I'd done the celery experiment in third grade; I don't remember it exactly, but I believe her.) BJ loved reading over the directions on the web page and choosing which color to use: his favorite color, red. We set it up, and he asked me to take a picture.

It took about a day, but sure enough the leaves started to get red and you could see some red in the lines on the stalk, especially in cross-section.

My boy being the celery lover that he is, he insisted on eating the results! (Not something he could have done with a carnation, eh?)

We'd set up the experiment while BB was napping, and BJ had a great time explaining it to her. Granted, he thought that the stalk would "drink up" all the colored water in the glass, but he mostly got the ideas right. Not one to be left out, BB wanted to do her own version of the experiment the next day after BJ had eaten his red celery. She chose blue, which ultimately had even more vivid results (or perhaps I just added more coloring to the water). I forgot to get a "before" pic, but she reminded me to get an "after."

BB wouldn't eat the celery, though. She was happy to leave that one to BJ. My girl and her vegetables are still not the best of friends.

One last science-related family anecdote: recently, BJ and BB were arguing about astronauts and princesses. BJ insisted that a princess could not be an astronaut. BB declared that they could. After some back and forth, S and I chimed in on the side of the princesses. I called upon the authority of They Might Be Giants -- in The Ballad of Davy Crockett (in Outer Space) Crockett is "king of this brand new place. Davy, Davy Crockett, traveling through outer space." So I reminded him of that and reasoned thus with him: can a king can be an astronaut? Yes. So then can a prince? Yes. What about a queen? Yes. So then could a princess also be an astronaut?

Yes, a princess could also be an astronaut, even BJ had to agree. If it was in a They Might Be Giants song (or, apparently, even deduced from one) then it had to be so. (Never mind that the song itself is based on legend, not fact!)

So that's one more count towards gender equality in the raising of my children, always a good thing. And one more reason to be eternally grateful to TMBG and their kids' music! (With rock stars like these, they might just be as cool as scientists to my son. And I'd have to agree on that one, too.)

Friday, February 5, 2010

Lonely Toothbrush

You know you're part of a well-established couple when your partner is gone and you start feeling sorry for your toothbrush. It's been several years since S has gone anywhere on his own for an overnight or more, which means it's been several years since I've seen my toothbrush sitting all alone in its own spot, without the company of S's toothbrush alongside. He's currently out of town for a long weekend, having left yesterday afternoon.

Happily, the kids have been keeping me busy. We had gym class this morning and a visit from our dear Auntie L last night. I'm not sure what we'll do this afternoon, but tomorrow is quite full (birthday party in the morning, babysitter in the afternoon so I can get a bit of a break) and then S will be home again on Sunday afternoon.

We knew S would be leaving for this conference when we made our plans to move in at the new place, and I'm very glad that we are settled fairly well already. His going out of town was a main reason that we rushed the move the way we did, with only 2 weeks notice or so to pack and get over here. I knew I did NOT want to be in a new place for only a few days before he had to leave. As it is, tomorrow we will have been here for a mere 2 weeks.

It still feels a bit like we're camping out here at the apartment -- doesn't really feel like home yet -- but we're reasonably comfortable. Kids are still really enjoying the newness of it all. But honestly, aside from moving around some furniture, unpacking some stuff, and purchasing a new dining set, the only major issue left to resolve is the cats. (Well, we still have to decide what we're going to do with the old house....) Actually, Butchie has done very well. It's poor Socksie who is acting out ("inappropriate elimination" sigh) and true to form it was his yowling that woke me up at 5 a.m., not anything from the kids. I'm sure the cat is wondering where his guy has gone; S and Socksie are definitely buddies.

S, if you're reading this: the cat misses you. The kids miss you. My toothbrush misses yours.

And of course, I miss you too. I hope your conference goes really well, and I'm looking forward to seeing you home again soon.

Friday Feature -- Jacquelyn Sloane Siklos

This week's featured Etsian is Jacquelyn, an amazing artist who runs two shops:
Sloane Siklos Photography and Sloane Siklos Painting. She says, "It is a little boring perhaps, but since I'm an artist, I felt it was simplest to brand my shops with my name to make it easy for people to find my work."

And with work as lovely as this gorgeous Enamel Jugs painting, it's a given that she'd want folks to be able to find it easily! Enjoy the interview!

1. Please tell us about the items in your Etsy shop. What do you make? How did you learn your craft? What is involved in your creative process?

I work as a visual artist. I studied fine art and art history at the University of Toronto. When I finished school, I worked in public relations, but really wanted to find a way to make a living in an artistic field. I decided to return to school, and went to OCAD - a design school in Toronto to study Graphic Design. I enjoyed that work but found it very difficult to manage my time when my first child came along. I missed being with her, and struggling to finish projects on my own as a freelancer. So I returned to painting, and on the way taught myself photography. I now sell both my photographs and paintings locally, and recently started up my Etsy shops to have an internet presence.

2. How did you get involved with Etsy?

I had a friend who was successful on Etsy and I followed her example.

3. What inspires your creations?

My photography is inspired by a wide variety of sources, but especially time to myself (a rare thing with 3 kids!)

4. What is your biggest challenge related to your Etsy shop?

Selling art is slow. It is more difficult to buy than a pair of earrings because it costs more and is tougher to ship, so sales have been very slow to start. However, I recently sold my first photograph via Etsy, so it is worth the time, and I believe that it all plays a part in getting people to see my work, which eventually will lead to sales. Technically, I find uploading and listing to be a chore that I do not love, and in fact, I am very much behind, particularly on my painting site! Also describing my own work is difficult for me, but necessary...

5. What is your favorite item in your shop (currently for sale or previously sold)? Why is it your favorite?

Ohhh. Playing favourites, it's so hard! This is one I love from my painting site:

and this would be one of my current faves for photography because it is from a current series I am working on.

I love the colours and sense of motion.

6. What advice do you have for other folks selling or buying on Etsy?

Find 2 or 3 teams that are relevant to you, and join them. They are a great network for promoting your work, but also invaluable for advice. They help you to feel that you are not alone in the problems you face with your shop - and often other life issues! The forums are obviously useful - particularly for advice and how-to's.

7. To which Etsy Teams do you belong?

I belong to Etsymom team, POE Team (Photographers on Etsy) and VAST Team (Visual Arts Street Team).

8. Tell us two (or more) other interesting things about you.

I joined Tae Kwon Do with my kids (age 6 and 8) in September, because I did not want to just watch them. We recently passed our white belt test and are working on yellow. We each had to break a board with a punch for our belt, and it was so thrilling to feel that strong! My youngest is 3, and I am finally feeling like I can pay attention to taking time for myself, so I recently took my first ballet class (since I was 10), and found it truly enjoyable.

9. Where else can we find out more about you and/or your creations?

I keep 2 other websites with my complete portfolio of work. and

If you see work on one of these sites, I'm always happy to make a custom listing. Follow me on twitter or join my facebook fan page which is where I post information strictly relating to my work.

10. Is there anything else you’d like to tell us about your shop or your work?

In Toronto my photographs can be seen at Canvas Gallery.

Thursday, February 4, 2010

The Dishwasher Dance

It's been a challenging week, but a good one. Still settling in at the new apartment. The kids are constantly interested in (and sometimes alarmed by) the new noises that come along with a new place. It's remarkably quiet, actually. We hear closing doors, some footfalls from upstairs, and occasional voices. The appliances sound different from the ones at our old house, and the kids have definitely noticed.

In particular, BB likes to point out that the dishwasher sings a song when it is running. And, being who she is, where there's a song there must be a dance. Here's a clip:


Monday, February 1, 2010

The New Place

We're settling nicely into the new place, I'm happy to say. Here are some pics from the move and the first week in the apartment. As my mom likes to say, she always feels better about her kids when she has a "visual image" of where they are living. So here ya go, Mom!

The main living area is a living/dining room with the kitchen in the corner. Back door is behind me in this shot. Master bed and bath to the right (through the door that is cut off) and the hall to the other two bedrooms and other bath is to the left. I took this pic the day we went to get our keys, Thursday afternoon before we moved in on Saturday.

Here's what it looked like by Saturday afternoon:

Here's the empty living room, before we moved in all our stuff. I'm standing in the hall that goes to the kids' wing of the apartment.

Here's the playroom on move-in day:

I realize as I'm posting this that I've not yet taken pictures of the master bedroom or of the kids' bedroom. (We decided to keep them sleeping in the same room, since that's been working out so well, and devote the third bedroom to a play room.) Here's the playroom later on in the week after much organizing and unpacking:

I've long wanted to set up a little "book nook" for the kids, and I was happy to be able to work that into the play room. It's just a corner filled with big pillows, a big stuffed cube, and the enormous floppy stuffed dog (who might as well be a rug). It's the kind of place I would have made for myself when I was a kid. BJ took to it immediately.

The pile of boxes after days of unpacking:

One of the many neat things about the new place: closets! That are actually functional! With doors that close and useable space and everything!!! (No, I wasn't becoming disenchanted with the quirks of living in a house built in 1926... why do you ask?) Naturally, BB thought they were for hiding inside.

She'd get in there and giggle and call for me to come find her, again and again. Very cute. These pics were taken on her birthday.

More pics to come -- lots of posts I could make about the last 10 days, but I'm beat (and I still have to get to all those emails...) so stay tuned in the coming days for more fun stuff about the new apartment!

Happy 3rd Birthday, BB!

So she's three years old, now -- a fact that still doesn't seem entirely real to me. We've entered that fun time of the year when the kids' ages are only a year apart (they are separated by 22 months). I admit that I get a big grin every time I get to say, "I have a 3-year-old and a four- year-old."

We had a small family party on Sunday, the day after moving in to the new place. Chocolate cake with vanilla frosting were BB's choices. As I've mentioned, she'd made it clear that she did NOT want to have a big party and did NOT want to share her cake with anybody except me, S, and BJ. So that's what we did!

She'd asked for a few very specific gifts: two new princess dolls (Snow White and Ariel, to be precise) and I'd thought she was going to pick out a princess theme for her cake as well. But when we went to the bakery, she was smitten by the Winnie the Pooh design. So that's what we got. Heck, I was just glad not to be hunting around for baking supplies the day after the move!

It was yummy, too!

She ended up with more of a pile of presents than I'd thought she would -- I'd had the foresight to pack a box labeled BB's Birthday in order to keep all her important stuff together (who wants to hunt for birthday candles in dozens of boxes?) and packing it up it didn't seem like so much. Certainly enough to get her excited!

She was tickled to unwrap the dolls -- S and I gave her Snow White and BJ gave her Ariel.

Earlier in the day, I'd let her open up the gift from my folks so that we could call them and do a birthday chat. As you can see, she was pretty enchanted by the little mouse family they gave her for her dollhouse. They merited a huge hug with accompanying squeezing sounds.

But the gifts to excite her the most were the two she had picked out with me a few days earlier. She'd asked for roller skates, so on the Thursday before her birthday I took her to the toy store to try some out. While we were there, I asked her if there was anything else she wanted for her birthday. "A wind-up toy!" she said with great enthusiasm. I didn't even know she knew what a wind-up toy was -- but apparently she did. She ran right up to the display and chose one. A galloping horse. It's been a big hit with both the kids.

Of course we didn't forget about the skates. She chose a pink pair emblazoned with the Barbie logo -- not my first choice, but she loves them.

Naturally we got all the protective gear too. I swear, she looks about six years old to me in this picture. When in the world did my baby get sooooo big?

Our friend A had heard that we were thinking of getting skates, and since she had an extra pair around the house she offered them to us. They worked out perfectly for BJ so that he could join in the fun.

As you can see, we're still in the throes of moving in, surrounded by boxes, but it was still wet and rainy so we let the kids skate around the living room for a bit to try things out. Too stinking cute, if you ask me. I love how at the end of the clip BB imitates her brother by deliberately falling down....


So another year older for my little girl. Certainly a memorable birthday. I was gratified when she announced to me that the new apartment was a good place for a birthday. Good thing, that. Happy birthday, my darling daughter. We love you so much!