Friday, June 10, 2011

The Writing on the Wall

I'm not a natural born home decorator. As a kid, my family moved around a lot, and as a young adult I continued to do the same. In my twenties and early thirties, when I lived in Manhattan, I occupied ten different apartments in as many years. As a result, I tended to avoid things that gave me a sense of domestic permanence, like hanging curtains or investing in decent furniture. (The other side of that coin is that I'm also a hopeless pack rat, and I've carried around things over the years that any normal person would've easily gotten rid of, but that's a different subject altogether.) So even though we've lived in our Brooklyn home for about seven years now, I've yet to hang pictures on many of the walls, or commit to anything as lasting as wallpaper. But inasmuch as I do decorate, my technique is akin to a scrap booker who collects the minutiae of my family's life, but I stick it on my walls rather than inside the closed pages of a book. In our kitchen, an entire wall is given over to a large bulletin board that forms a snapshot of our existence. Its in a constant state of revision, just as we are, and changes every few months. Of course it includes lots of photos and drawings that the children make, and its where I put tickets to upcoming concerts or plays so I won't lose them. Right now it's also home to Henry's number from last year's NYC Marathon (his first) and his medal from last year's NYC Triathlon (his third). Its got things we've found in the park (feathers and autumn leaves sealed in a bag), and postcards from friends in far off places (India, Australia). Its got birthday party invitations, one wedding invitation, and one letter to Paul McCartney from Jake, asking for an audience. Its also got pictures of art our friends made, and postcards from craft fairs where I've vended.

Jake wrote this letter to Paul McCartney a couple of years ago, but its a keeper.

The postcard of the the woman in the top right corner is a painting done by my mother-in-law, the more abstract looking postcard in blues and greens was for an exhibition to our friend Melora Griffis's paintings.

I love this spot in our house, and my kids seem to understand how much I love it because when any of them has produced a creation he is particularly proud of he comes to me asking "Can we hang it on the board?"

Jake's poem about a shooting star takes pride of place on "the board", as its known in our house.

The board was made simply by hanging three large sheets of cork alongside one another. No paint job or pretty paper cover, no fancy crisscrossing ribbons for tucking things inside. Cork, tacks, and the things we love to look at and talk about are all that went into making this particular piece of art.

One other similar decorating project I managed to do a while back in a fit of domestic motivation was this combination chalkboard/magnetic wall in the tiny vestibule in the front of our house.

I made this very simply by first painting the entire wall with two coats of magnetic paint. You can get this paint at any largish hardware/home improvement store or store selling a decent selection of paints. Note that even with two coats, this paint isn't super magnetic; it's well suited for the magnetic poetry magnets we like to make up poems with, but it isn't really strong enough to hang anything weighty from.

When this was thoroughly dry, I marked off a rectangle in the middle with some painters tape, and covered it with two coats of chalkboard paint, also pretty readily available anywhere you can buy regular house paint.

I was going to buy some thin, decorative wooden molding and install it around the rectangular frame of the chalkboard, but I ran out of steam. I think it looks pretty groovy just as it is, though. At first I used it to write out the weekly schedule and any pertinent things I needed to remember on the way out the door (i.e. "Tuesday-Bring Jake's permission slip for field trip!" "Friday: Charlie 2:00 Dr. appt!"). Then I decided to do away with that plan, because its much more fun now for the kids and I to leave messages to one another. And even though my two little guys can't read or write yet, they have fun scribbling with chalk. Its great to have ONE wall in the house where they can actually draw without getting in trouble.

I love that this is the first thing I see when I walk in the door of my house.
Soon I'll be posting about some other artwork I've managed to hang up that was a collaborative effort between the kids and I.
Until then, I'll leave you with one of my favorite (still!) songs about home.
The Talking Heads' This Must Be the Place

Tuesday, June 7, 2011

Underground Crafter Interview

Okay, so this isn't something I actually made today, but I wanted to share an interview I did with my fellow crafter and Etsy team mate Marie Segares, aka, Underground Crafter, for her blog. Marie is an amazing crochet artist who has been at her craft for over 25 years. I am now adding "Learn to crochet" to the creative to-do list.

Also, my Etsy team, The {NewNew}, is giving away one of my totes as part of its First Monday's Giveaway. Click on the link and comment to enter by June 15th, for a chance to win some great stuff from other amazing crafters as well. Good luck!

Monday, June 6, 2011

Homemade Jam

So, the title of this post is a little misleading, because making jam (the fruity, spreadable kind), is still on my list of things to learn to do. Today I'm referring instead to the musical notion of jamming, which happens a lot in my house. I firmly believe that all children should learn to speak a second language and to play a musical instrument. I'm not capable of either. (I did study French for seven years but never had much opportunity to practice speaking it, and I took guitar lessons for about six months before the neck of my guitar inexplicably cracked, so, I keep those things on the same list as jam making.) Fortunately, my husband Henry is a gifted self-taught guitar player, and he often breaks out his guitar when the boys have a little extra energy to burn (meaning, almost daily). We also keep plenty of the standard issue kid friendly instruments lying around; maracas, drums, bells, etc. for the boys to pick up whenever the spirit moves them, but the problem with these is that they often sound kind of crappy. So Henry also invested in a to-be-used-only-with-adult-supervision ukelele for the kids. As long as we keep it tuned it sounds pretty great, even when the kids aren't playing it properly. Its small enough for their little hands, and Henry is teaching them to strum it and play some notes as a precursor to possible guitar lessons a little later on.

Though I can't say that we're total abstainers when it comes to electronics and media in our home, we did ditch our cable a while back, and we've yet to break down and buy a Wii or similar gaming system. We have an Apple TV box, so we buy or rent some kids t.v. shows which the boys get to watch in the hour or so leading up to dinner time, and on weekends. But making music, whatever it sounds like, is one of our favorite go-to activities that we share as a family, and keeps us connected while helping us stay unplugged. Below are two clips from yesterday afternoon that show you the kind of jam we're really good at making. Once I figure out how to make the kind that requires berries, I'll be sure to post that too.

Wednesday, June 1, 2011

Black Gold in the Garden

In the green paradigm of "reduce, reuse, recycle", I think our culture still gets it the wrong way around. Or at least, I know I do. The campaign to recycle has become a victim of its own success; while the concept of recycling is embedded into our social consciousness, and is something most of us do without arguing over its merits, it also gives us a false sense of solution. We think that by throwing our plastic water bottle into the recycling bin we've done a good thing, when what we really need to be doing is buying less plastic water bottles, or reusing the ones we've already gone ahead and bought.

Composting is one of the more feel-good acts of making and sustainability that my family maintains, because all three R's are incorporated into its practice. We reduce the amount of waste we put into landfills, we reuse some of the waste we have made by turning it into compost, and we recycle, in its truest sense, the scraps of those fruits and vegetables and paper towels we bought in the first place by putting them back into the earth where they originated.

You don't need a lot of space to compost, but I'm grateful that we have a small garden so that we can do ours outside. (If you didn't catch the excellent documentary "No Impact Man", be sure to watch it. One of the more tragi-comical scenes has to do with an indoor composting bin that uses special red worms to help break down the food scraps.) Because we have so many kitchen scraps, we have two large composters in our garden which we rotate so that one gets time to aerate and break down its contents while the other is being filled up. One of them is a rotating bin, which works much faster than the other, a large, perforated, standing bin that takes a bit longer to do its magic.

This tumbler bin, which we bought here wasn't exactly cheap, but the handier folks among you can find plenty of guidance online for building your own, including this model from the Popular Mechanics website.

Somehow, lots of big juicy worms always find their way into this bin. My boy Jake loves digging around for them. I have no idea how they get in there, and if you do please share the answer with me.

This upright model, which is called a Gourmet Garden, was picked up at the Brooklyn Botanical Garden member sale last year. I think we paid around $50 for it, and its huge. It's sturdy enough to deter animals, but well ventilated so that the stuff inside can actually break down. I aid this process by frequently stabbing and turning its contents with a pitchfork.

You can see from the photo below that the contents are still in a state of partial decomposition. Compost that is garden ready should look, feel and smell like dirt. It shouldn't stink, feel slimy, or contain big chunks of avocado peel and eggshells.

In this image you can see the little slats and holes in the side of the bin, which keep it well aerated.

Successful composting requires following a few very simple rules, like maintaining adequate air flow, and a proper balance of green and brown contents. We also strictly follow the no protein protocol, since we're city folks, and we want to keep the rats in the subway tunnels where they belong. There are a million places to find information on how to compost. I'm including these very useful and comprehensive bits of information from the website Garden of OZ.

One additional tip I'm going to include that isn't mentioned in the above link has to do with one of the more annoying side effects of composting in the summer: fruit flies. We get lots of them where we live, and they hover over the scrap bin even when its shut tight. To minimize this nuisance, I make a couple of traps and leave them around the scrap collecting bin and also by the kitchen sink, where they also tend to congregate. To make a trap, a take an empty, washed out jam jar and puncture a bunch of holes in the top with a very small nail. I put a piece of banana or a few berries in the jar and screw the lid on top. If the holes are the right size, the flies can get in but can't get out. The fruit inside will get pretty nasty pretty quickly, so I take the jar outside and empty it into the compost bin and refill it with new fruit scraps every few days. This doesn't totally eliminate the problem, but it minimizes it significantly. If you have any additional tips or tricks for dealing with fruit flies, I'd love to hear about them.

The best thing about compost is how amazingly well it keeps my plants and flowers looking. Truth is, I do not have a green thumb. I stick stuff in the soil and cross my fingers. But when I put a layer of compost on top of my plants (many of which are potted because, remember, I'm a city dweller), they look better and better every year. It really is black gold.

Finally, I'm including an image of the alpine strawberries the kids and I planted this year. My boys seldom all eat the same foods, but they all love berries. My heart nearly broke last year when I read about the California State Dept. of Pesticide Regulation giving a green light to strawberry farmers who were lobbying to use methyl iodide, a proven toxin, in their berry crops. I no longer buy grocery store strawberries that aren't organic now, and the truth is they're never nearly as delicious as local ones in season anyway (like most food, I know). So I'm so excited for these guys to come out and ripen, and for my boys to get a chance to make the earth to table connection that is too often lacking in our urban existence. I'll post pictures of our berries again when they're ripe for picking.

Here's a song to wish you all a happy first day of June. The Decemberists' June Hymn.