Wednesday, March 30, 2011

Renovations and Remodeling

My little "instruction" worker.
My son has been asking me almost since the house was built, "Mommy, can we build a bathroom?" I've been putting it off, telling him that his friends can just go outside if nature calls, but finally I caved. We set aside a few hours today ("the sisters", as he calls them, were at grandma's house) and set about with our construction project, Cardboard Crafter style. No, folks, we were not building a bathroom onto OUR home, we were expanding the G.I. Joe house. 

Using a beat up diaper box (which we repaired with hot glue and packing tape) and a large shoe box for our raw materials, we were able to attach two additional rooms to the two-room house, effectively doubling its size. Now the Joes and Barbies (the female companions of the elite fighting force, because, let's face it folks, it gets a little lonely when it's just the guys) have a living room, a bedroom, a kitchen, and a bathroom, although no toilet as of yet. We floored the room with some contact paper I had left over from another project and wallpapered the walls with green construction paper (would he want any other color? I don't think so.). When the rooms were done, we set about making some furniture to fill them and added a few other little details, such as curtains, windows, and art on the wall. After a couple hours work, this is what we came up with:

This is what we started out with today. Even though it boasts hardwood floors and brightly
colored wallpaper,  it lacks proper facilities.

These are the two rooms that were added on today. As you can see, the Joes stood by
looking over my shoulder as I worked, critiquing as we went along and making suggestions
(typical men).
The bathroom (upstairs) after flooring and wallpaper were added. We hung a curtain
using a pipe cleaner hot-glued in place as a curtain rod and glued a faux window to
the back wall. The sink was a ceramic knick-knack that came from Dollar Tree. No toilet
or bath tub yet, but we may construct them from salt dough.

The kitchen boasts the same color scheme as the bathroom. My son wanted to paint
the sink green too, but I convinced him to choose a color that wouldn't blend into the
walls so much. The sink is made from a Pop Tart box and the bottom of a plastic cup,
with a bendy straw for the faucet. The plate shelf on the wall is a cardboard box with a
strip of paper glued across to keep the plates from falling. The paint wasn't dry yet, so
we hadn't put the plates up when the picture was taken.

We got the basics done, but it's still a little rough looking. There are many things that the Joes need in order to make life a little more comfortable, but now, at least, they can wash their hands and dishes in their new sinks and hide from Barbie in the locked bathroom if she is having one of her mood swings. All in all, a pretty productive day.

Tuesday, March 29, 2011

Ruffled Shirt, Take Two

Ruffled shirt, round one. My little pirate, still my favorite
costume. It's tragic that this is the only picture I have
of him in it!
My little prince discovered his pirate shirt (Halloween, age 2) in an old trunk and decided he wanted to use it for his prince costume at his sisters' upcoming birthday ball. It has been two years since I made the pirate shirt, so it didn't quite fit, but it was close. When I originally constructed it, I had made the neck a little too loose, but now it is perfect. All we needed to do was add some lace to the ragged ends of his sleeves (they were a bit short and weather-worn from years at sea), and we added a sash to the waist for length. 

The original shirt was made from some pantaloons from a thrift store, worn upside-down. The waist is still the waist, but the legs became sleeves, and the neck was made from a hole in the crotch. (I washed them first, don't worry!) I cut the lace cuffs off and they became his ruffled collar, along with some white fabric from a handkerchief, a blue ribbon, and a jewel from the blazer I recycled for his pirate coat. I love recycling old clothing into costumes, because the sewing is halfway done for you! 

The haughty prince deigned to have his picture taken for this post, much to the pleasure
of his royal subjects. The coat he is wearing here is from a pirate costume that my Aunt
Melinda made for me as a child. She was a much better seamstress than me, and after all
these years and many washings, it still looks brand new, not a frayed seam to be found.

What was your favorite Halloween or party costume as a child? What was your most memorable improvisation?

Monday, March 28, 2011

Project Ideas: Customize Kids Furniture and Curtains

This blanket was purchased at the Mountain State Arts
and Crafts Fair for my son by one of his many adoring
grandparents. :)
Before we even moved into our new house, I knew how I wanted to decorate my girls' room: the theme was "Fairytale Forest," and I planned to hunt down birds, butterflies, and fairies to decorate the walls, bedding, and furniture. I've got a pretty good start in there with pink floral garlands, large butterflies and dragonflies, and pink and brown bedding with bird's nest appliques. My son's room, however, was a different story.

Eli, having reached the ripe old age of 4, has opinions of his own. He has a wide and varied range of interests, and aside from his favorite color (green) and his favorite number (4), he doesn't have too many other favorites. He likes pirates, knights, dragons, G.I. Joes, super heroes, and rocket ships equally, so it has been hard to narrow it down to a single, cohesive theme. Today he made his choice: (drum roll please......) Space Adventure.

My son has been sleeping under a heavy, plush rocket ship blanket for about two years now. His blanket goes perfectly with his theme (sigh of relief), so bedding is already done. And he has been drawing pictures of suns and planets lately, so his own art projects will work as well. We haven't had a chance to paint his walls yet (he just picked his theme today, silly), but I did have a couple of free hours while the little ones were napping to get started!

Project 1: Stellar Clothes Chest

I probably should have painted this black first, but I didn't have the paint or the patience
to wait. We can always peel the stickers off, paint it, and either reapply stickers or paint
stars and planets on the dresser later.

Eli's clothes are all stored in an old dresser we inherited from one of his grandparents, so since this piece of furniture is going to stay in his room, we might as well make it fit with his theme. I did not paint it first, but if you are going to do this project, I suggest putting a fresh coat of paint on your dresser and giving it plenty of time to dry. We found a packet of giant wall stickers at the Dollar Tree ($1) and applied them randomly across the front of the drawers. We had a few extra stickers left, so they went on a mirror that hangs on the back of his bedroom door. This project is simple, easy, and cheap, as well as being kid friendly. Now we have a custom furniture piece that matches his room! We used these stickers on his dresser, but if you have smooth walls in your room, you could also put these on the walls to extend the theme around the rest of the space.

Project 2: Field of Stars Curtains

I jumped into this project without a pattern or a plan. That's right, I like to walk on the
wild side. If you do plan ahead, however, your curtains will probably turn out better. :)

Eli's room had frilly pink curtains when we moved in, so those had to come down ("Pink is a GIRL color, Mommy!"). Because we hadn't chosen a theme for his room, we never bought or made curtains to replace them... until TODAY, that is! I rummaged through my fabric stash to find anything resembling the night sky, and I didn't have much. I had less than a quarter of a yard of blue with silver stars, so I decided to improvise. I patched together the darkest blue fabrics that I could find to form a night sky that gradually gets darker the further away from the horizon (bottom of curtain) you go. Well, I spread that out to see what it looked like, and to be honest it was boring. It needed some details. My next step: form a long strip of the starry fabric and run it along the seam between the mid-tone and the lightest color. That was better, but still not great. Upon further excavation of Fabric Mountain, I struck a silver vein. A person with time and patience could have cut out precise star shapes, pinned them, and hand-sewn them to the fabric. A person with three children under the age of five (me) might cut out squares of sparkly silver and hot glue them to the fabric. This hot glue technique can be used to jazz up boring store-bought curtains with silk flowers, buttons, ribbons, etc. Note: you will want to iron the fold marks out of your curtains BEFORE you glue your accessories to them, because Iron + Hot Glue = Mess.

With the addition of his "stellar clothes chest" and "field of stars curtains," my son's room is starting to look a little more cohesive. It is still overflowing with random super hero toys, books, G.I. Joes, and other non-space-related items, but this is a start. All we need now are some toy boxes that look like USS Enterprise Shuttlecraft (yes, I am a nerd) to hide all the non-stellar toys in, and we will be all set! (When I figure out how to do that, I will post pictures, I promise.)

What kind of do-it-yourself projects have you used to personalize your kid's room or other space in your home?

Friday, March 25, 2011

The Art of Improvisation, or a Blank Canvas has More Possibilities

My son's first castle. He was 2 yrs old here.
My son has three (count'em 3!!) play tents, and yet for some reason he still feels the need to erect elaborate fort structures out of toy boxes, chairs, big toys, and blankets every chance he gets. I ask myself, why does the kid not just pull out one of his tents and play in that? The answer: it's so much more fun if you have to improvise.

Have you ever noticed on Christmas morning when your kids open their expensive baby doll that walks, giggles, eats real food, and does your taxes that they toy they end up playing with is the packaging it came in? Or how when you have a large box in the house, it instantly become a space ship or a castle, but if you spend tons of money buying your kid a plastic castle to play with in the backyard it ends up fading in the sunlight, lonely and unused? The answer my friend: a blank canvas has more possibilities.

An elaborate toy with all the bells and whistles can only be one thing, that which is was designed to be. A plastic doll with a giant smile pasted on its face can only do one thing: smile. However, a cloth doll with button eyes and no other features can be joyous, desolate, angry, you name it. Any expression you can imagine can play across that doll's face, therefore that doll has more potential.

It's the same with the cardboard box. That box can be anything you want it to be. When you play in it, you can be in a submarine, exploring the darkest depths of the ocean or in a monster truck, crushing your competition. That cardboard box can be your house in the countryside with the picket fence or a maximum security prison facility designed to house super-villains with strange and wonderful powers. With the tent: you can pretend you are camping. The more elaborate the toy is, the more limited its range. Sure, the flashy lights and catchy musical tune that come on when you press the button are novel, but they have no staying power. Give me good old blocks any day, I'll be content for hours. Oh, and so will my kid.

Thursday, March 24, 2011

The Budget for Your Party is WHAT?!!

Gathering items from around the house
added a hint of authenticity to my Western
parlor for my son's Cowboy Party.

I have spent several afternoons munching on popcorn watching "reality" TV shows where doting parents throw elaborate birthday parties for their children, sparing no expense. Little Johnny wants Justin Bieber to sing him happy birthday? No problem, Justin name your price. Little Susie wants to be carried into the room on the shoulders of 12 Chippendale dancers? If that's what she wants, that's what she'll have, here's some cash, see that it happens. I find myself wondering what dimension the producers of these shows traveled into to film this alternate-reality TV. These people spend more on their daughter's sweet sixteen than I spent on my house. It boggles the mind.

That said, I have nothing against throwing a great party for your kids. Personally, I enjoy hunting down the decorations and props, planning the menu, making costumes, planning activities, and putting it all together. I just cringe at the thought at spending a lot of money in the process. And believe me, my definition of "a lot" of money is vastly different than those folks who make it onto TV.

I've compiled a list below of my favorite places to go for party supplies. The key is to pick and choose, find what is going to make the most impact for the least price, because even when shopping these places, one could end up spending a small fortune if one doesn't show restraint. Without further ado, here's the list:   

Dollar Tree: Dollar Tree stores are located across the country and also, conveniently, on the web! My favorite thing about shopping Dollar Tree is that everything's a dollar, so I can count the items in my shopping cart and know exactly how much I've spent. Inventory includes paper plates, plastic silverware, table cloths, fancy cookies, balloons, and floral and craft items for centerpieces. If you want something a little more formal, Dollar Tree also sells a selection of glass and ceramic dishes, candle holders, and fancy serving dishes. This is always my first stop when I am preparing for a party.

Big Lots: You never know what you will find at Big Lots, but it is a good place to buy seasonal decor, food items, and outdoor party items at a discount. Big Lots is usually my second stop after the Dollar Tree. This is where I hunt down unusual props and strange or festive food and drinks.

Oriental Trading: For a theme party, Oriental Trading Company is an excellent resource. You can shop from their catalog or website and buy items in bulk for larger gatherings. Oriental Trading Company is a good place to buy that special item to set the mood, whether you are purchasing a cardboard corral for a Western party or Tiki torches for your next luau, they've got it. Word of caution: it wouldn't take long to blow your entire budget shopping here, so save this for your "wow" item and get things like table settings elsewhere.

Party Cheap: I stumbled across this site and instantly loved it. There's a big variety of themed decorations for all kinds of different parties, and they take PayPal. I admit, I haven't actually ordered anything from here, but there's a lot of inventory that tempts me, and the prices are pretty good.

Your Garage or Attic: You may be surprised how much stuff you already have that can be re-purposed to set the mood for your party. Christmas lights, party platters, extra chairs and tables, lamps and candles, you name it, I bet your house is full of things that you can utilize for your party. And don't forget, you can always make decorations and costumes from things you have in your craft room if you want something more specialized. There is no limit to what you can do if you give it a little creativity and time, and if you have kids, making party decorations together can be a lot of fun and can create many fond memories for your children. 

Wednesday, March 23, 2011


This last post has experienced some technical difficulties.

Monday, March 21, 2011

Photorealism: What's the Point?

A wall-hanging that I wove in college. I love
the colors (not so much the wall color... that's
a different story) and the sheen of the soft
yarn. Makes me want to touch it!
The skill and work it takes to create a photo-realistic image with paint is incredible, and I am suitably impressed with any artist who can do this. I, personally, cannot paint with such precision. However, I don't really understand why a person would want to paint in such a way that their work is indistinguishable from a photograph.

In this day of digital photography and image editing, a skilled designer can easily create an otherworldly landscape or a digital avatar that looks "real," as opposed to "virtual." (No more laughable "Clash of the Titans" clay-mation for my TV. That's old school.) I have, more than once, mistaken my husband's video games for an actual football game, until one of the game screens pops up. And honestly, they can do even better than that now. (Has anyone seen the movie "Avatar"?)

With so much "perfection" in the world (manufactured plastic products, streamlined stainless steel appliances, laser cut designs, etc.), I am looking for something of the artist in a painting or ceramic piece. I want to see the human element, evidence that this object was hand-crafted by a person and not a product of a machine-administered assembly line. I know that a master-craftsman can produce things that look machine-made, and this has long been the desired outcome, but now that we have machines that can make things perfect, I want something else from my art. I want to see brush strokes, finger prints, paint drips. I want to see layers of texture. I want my art to be tactile and gritty, not shiny and sterile. I want to go back to a more primitive time.

Don't get me wrong, I'm not knocking sleek design and modern conveniences, I'm just saying I need some balance in my life. I would like to pull an organically shaped, hand-molded ceramic dish out of my stainless steel microwave. Somehow, that makes the food taste better than when it is reheated in Gladware. On the wall opposite my 50" plasma screen, I want to see a woven wall-hanging with hand-dyed natural fibers and uneven edges, the yin to modern technology's yang. I'm a sucker for a craft fair, and with Spring finally here, it won't be too long before fair time. I can't wait!

Detail from the above wall-hanging. "Deep Greens and Blues," 2005

Friday, March 18, 2011

The Art of Eclectic Doll House Designs, or Neon Green in the Dining Room Won't Affect My Appetite

You probably think by now I'm all talk and no action. I prattle on about my love of doll houses and crafting, but for the most part haven't really put my money where my mouth is, so to speak. Today I'm going to show you that I can walk the walk, so hold tight to your keyboard and prepare to be blown away... **winks**

One of my favorite aspects of doll house building is decorating and furnishing my mini-mansion. I can try outrageous color combinations, textures, and treatments on my doll house that I could never do on the walls and surfaces of my own home, either due to cost or my husband's veto power. I don't have to worry about functionality or practicality, I can go all out, and if I don't like it, I can paint or paper over it, just like in a real house. After all, my dolls have only the opinions that I give them, so they are always ecstatic about my designs (except for Hansel, he only likes houses he can eat). 

I fell in love with the bright colors and antiqued treatments from the set of "Nanny McPhee," and I really like many of the furniture pieces and treatments implemented in the show "Shabby Chic," so I attempted to incorporate that kind of aesthetic in the design of this doll house. Using fabric scraps, old paint, buttons, paper clips, and various odds and ends, I have cobbled together an inexpensive, easy to make doll house full of rich color and detail sure to impress even the great Genevieve Gorder (even though none of my walls are painted black). Okay, maybe I'm getting a little cocky, but I'm pretty proud of how this one turned out. I hope you enjoy!

This doll house is constructed from a diaper box and another cardboard box, hot glued
together. The edges are sealed with papier mache and self-adhesive ribbon. Lighting is functional,
however batteries cannot be replaced. (Something I am working on.)

The shingles are made from medium-grit sand paper cut to size and overlapped. The
exterior surface is a two-tone paint treatment, the first an off-white spray paint (applied
before the interior was completed), and the second is a reddish-brown acrylic applied
with a sponge.

Doors and windows are cut from the cardboard before sealing the edges and painting.
Wooden beads were used for door knobs.

The floor is a solid sheet of contact paper. I marked the grid lines with a sharpie
and painted the dark "tiles" with black acrylic. The walls were painted and then
antiqued with a few dabs of brown paint. I obviously didn't measure the pieces
used for the bottom part of the wall, but you certainly can for a more professional
look to your doll house. Furniture was purchased at the Dollar Tree, originally red, I
painted the table and added beads to the legs to lengthen them. Lighting is a
battery-powered LED tea light, velcroed to the ceiling to allow access to the switch.

Faux wood flooring is a paint treatment. Scrapbook pages used for wall paper and ceiling tiles.
Stairs are constructed from folded, corrugated cardboard, hot-glued to the wall and painted
black, fabric covered using Mod Podge. Paintings are art stickers framed in yarn. Lampshade
is a toothpaste lid mounted on a wire and beads. Rug is cut paper Mod Podged to the floor. TV
is a magnet with a photo glued to the screen.

Bed is constructed from wood scraps, popsicle sticks, and cardboard painted white. Comforter and pillows
constructed from fabric scraps and are machine stitched. Curtains are hung from a dowel rod mounted on
paper clips. Ceiling fan is another LED tea light with wooden blades attached. Stool constructed from beads,
dowel rods, cardboard, and fabric. Floor, wallpaper, and ceiling are scrapbook paper affixed with Mod Podge
and sealed with self-adhesive ribbon. Trash can is a coffee creamer tub.

Flooring is the same contact paper as used in the dining room. Sink/bowl and
pitcher is an antique tea pot (the most expensive item in the entire doll house).
Ladder to attic is constructed of dowel rods glued with Elmer's school glue
and painted brown. Train on top of cabinet is an Easter tree ornament.

Due to irregular boxes, this house has a small attic. Pillows hand-stitched from
fabric and lace scraps. Trunk is a cardboard box covered in brown paper bag
and trimmed with painted twist ties and gold paint. Colorful box is an earring
box. Light is a book light, painted to blend in with ceiling paint.

I would estimate I have $20-$25 invested in this, including the furnishings. Not bad, considering what you would pay for a commercially constructed doll house kit and accessories. (You don't even want to know, really... these things can be ridiculously expensive.) Feel free to take any of these ideas and incorporate in your own projects!

Want more ideas for constructing your cardboard doll house? Check out All Things Crafty's awesome doll house. This one is much more elaborate than mine, although it is not in a finished state in these pics, you will definitely be impressed!

Thursday, March 17, 2011

The Next BIG Project

These two little monkeys have broken into my sewing room
a few times and made my mess even bigger. (Katie, Claire)
I have a mental list of craft and sewing projects I plan to complete soon (soon being a relative term meaning anywhere from in the next 5 minutes to the next 5 years), including a hinged cardboard doll house, several scrapbook pages, princess dresses for the girls, a giant cardboard suit of armor cutout... I could go on, but you get the point. However, I currently have a big obstacle. One look in my sewing room and the problem will become obvious: organization (or lack there-of), a situation which is greatly contributing to my procrastination problem.

I have recently inherited a great fortune of art supplies from my grandma, my great aunt, my husband's grandmother, and the neighbor across the street, and I still have several boxes of fabric, doll house furniture, and other odds and ends at my mom's house. In addition to the mess in my sewing room, I have bags and boxes in the hallway just waiting to be opened and sorted. Don't get me wrong, I absolutely LOVE having so many supplies to work with and having a dedicated craft room in which to work (two things I didn't have when I was in art school). However, I need to spend some time cleaning and organizing said craft room. I'd say about two hours at most should see the job done.

Next question: where am I going to find two hours? This isn't really a BIG project, per se, but it is a project that I have to do by myself (I can see so many different ways disaster could hit if the kids help... visions of my paper cutter becoming a finger guillotine or one of the kids discovering that the sewing machine can poke holes in fingers as well as paper or whatever else they have run through it prompt me to make that a "kid-free" zone). I suppose this is another thing to put on the list of "To Do During Nap Time," along most everything else I would like to get done around here. Soon, I tell myself. Soon they will be old enough that they no longer require constant supervision and Mommy will be able to spend a few minutes scrubbing the toilet without fear that they will discover how pouring the water from their cups on the back of it can make the TV turn off... I'm just hoping that this "soon" is closer to the 5 minute kind, and not the 5 year variety...

The site of my last project, paint brushes, glue, nail polish,
scissors, bits of cardboard, etc. are strewn around, the mess
enhanced by my little princesses.

My poor, naked dress form, waiting forlornly in the corner
for the next sewing project.

My shelves and drawers are stacked high with items hastily
thrown into the room in the millisecond between the time
I open the door and the babies follow me in.

I have to say, it's an impressive mess. I can't wait to clean it up, it will be like discovering buried treasure!

Wednesday, March 16, 2011

My Vacation Home is on Facebook

To any of my followers who did not already know, I have created a Facebook fan site where I post links to all my new blog posts (hence the new  badges and gadgets on the right side of the screen). If you spend all your computing time on Facebook and only visit Blogger occasionally, please "like" The Cardboard Crafter on Facebook for easier access to my posts. Thanks for reading!

Tuesday, March 15, 2011

Craft Project: Decorative Knight's Shield

Step 1: Mix a salt dough. I used 2 cups flour, 1 cup salt, and approx. 3/4
cup of warm water. Knead until dough is of a Play-Doh consistency. Kid
safe, as long as they don't eat too much. (High salt content = dehydration)

Step 2: Select a piece of cardboard on which to mold your form. This particular
 bit of cardboard is from a frozen pizza, so it was already round and didn't need to be cut.

Step 3: Mold the dough into an emblem for your shield. I used a snake.
Use water to smooth cracks out of your sculpted piece. You can use
tools to shape it, such as a tooth pick, butter knife, or fork, but this will be
covered so fine details will be obscured anyhow.

Step 4: Bake in oven at 250 degrees. These were hard in two hours.

Step 5: Cover with aluminum foil. Be careful, the foil tears easily! (Note: for
better adhesion, you may cover your form in spray glue or Mod Podge before
applying the foil, but it might make it more difficult to manipulate the foil.)

For variations on the salt dough recipe, click here. Salt dough can be used for all kinds of things, but make it in small batches because as it begins to dry it gets harder to work with. I made two shields, a snake (first) and a dragon (second). By the time I started on the second piece, the dough was already cracking and spongy and wouldn't hold detail as well, so work quickly. 

Step 6: I will add black paint for an antiqued look and maybe some orange-red and green for rust and corrosion, applying the paint in a thin coat to allow the silver to shine through. 

Step 7: Add wall mount using hot glue.

I will post pictures of the finished project later.

Feel free to use this idea or any variation of it for your own craft project or party decoration! These will be used to help lend the house a "castle" look for my daughter's Princess Masquerade Ball birthday party.

Saturday, March 12, 2011

What To Do When You Have No Diapers, or Creative Solutions to Everyday Problems

My solution to the Rubik's cube? Remove
all the stickers and reapply them on the
correct side of the cube.
This morning I had two baby girls in the bath tub, and one clean diaper. Problem. Twins may share a lot of things in life, but diapers are not one of them. What to do? My sis-in-law had a creative solution right off the bat: stick a maxi pad to a hand towel and wrap around baby, attach with tape or safety pins. Wow, that would really work, I thought. I'll have to file that idea away for the next diaper emergency. Fortunately for my fashion conscious 1-year-olds (they are already obsessed with shoes), I did not have to implement this creative solution. Instead I sent big brother next door to Grandma's house to fetch the diapers that she kept on hand, but it was a near thing, we could have gone with the towel solution. 

Often when things go wrong, we are tempted to pout, throw things, shake our fists at fate, or simply give up, but I'm here to say that sometimes, with a little innovation, that mountain standing between you and your goal is really just a speed bump. It's a matter of perspective: if you view a problem as the end-all message from the universe that things were just not meant to be, you'll never finish anything, especially in art. Problems arise all the time, and how a person responds says a lot about character. A creative problem-solver can often find a better solution than a person who always operates within the established operating procedures or always follows the directions (Disclaimer: always follow safety precautions on product labels, I'm not here to promote house fires or inhalation injuries). There's a reason the phrase "thinking outside the box" has become such a cliche: because it's necessary for our continued evolution, whether technologically speaking or otherwise. This is how perspective was invented, oil paint, and many other innovations in the art world. It's how the frugal or found artist works. You take your lemons and make lemon souffle. Or lemonade, whatever. Personally, I'll take the souffle.

Do you have a funny story about a time you had to implement a creative solution in your life? Please share.

Friday, March 11, 2011

Style: It's Not Genetic

Eli is very serious about his style.
I was not deprived as a child. I had all the best things a kid could ask for: a stable home life, siblings my own age to play with, a supportive mom, and plenty of space to live and grow. However, there was something lacking in my life: style. I told myself that I did not have the luxury to really develop a personal "style" when it came to my clothing and accessories, rationalizing that it was a failing caused by our poor shopping habits. We went school clothes shopping once a year, usually at K-mart, and my wardrobe was occasionally supplemented by second-hand clothing or costume pieces. Personally, I loved sorting through the bags of "hand-me-downs," snatching up whatever appealed to me, and trying new things. We always had "style shows" when we got new clothes, playing dress up as if it were a costume party. I remember a shirt I often liked to wear: it was green with a vivid graphic across the entire front. The picture was of a Victorian woman with a high collar and a feathered hat, more suited to hang framed on a wall than to grace the front of a polyester shirt; however, that did not keep it out of my "A" clothing rotation. I had striped knee-socks and gaucho pants, a baby blue faux leather jacket, and grey and neon pink sneakers. Sometimes I would wear these things all together. I was a mess. I'm glad that those were the days before People of Walmart, or I may have ended up on the internet for the world to see (and make fun of). As an adult, I stick to solid colored shirts, jeans, and neutral-colored slacks. I still don't have style, but at least I shouldn't embarrass my kids when I venture out into public. (At least not because of my clothing... I'm sure there are many other ways that I could find to be embarrassing.)

My son, however, is a different story. I think he came out of the womb wearing a fedora and sunglasses. He likes to layer, wearing a cowboy vest over a striped collared shirt, jeans, Reeboks, and always the hat. And, to beat it all, his clothing prospects are not much better than mine were: we buy things off the sale rack, he gets hand-me-downs from his cousin, and he gets the occasional gift of clothing from the grandparents, but we don't do any major spending. And yet, he always looks like a mini hipster, only cooler because he's genuine. My conclusion: style has as much to do with attitude as anything else, and he's got the personality to pull anything off. My best friend has declared that he will either grow up to be a doctor or win Project Runway. His plan? He's going to be a motorcycle cop so he can fight bad guys. Oh, yeah, and wear a cool leather jacket.

This is his "Everyday Hat." Personally, I think he wears it to
pick up chicks.

Thursday, March 10, 2011

Oh, the Parties We Can Plan

If only kids didn't grow, Eli could wear his
Halloween costume to the big event.
It's official: I have come up with the theme for my daughters' upcoming birthday party. I know you have all been waiting for this announcement, so I won't prolong the agony of your anticipation. I mean, ever since last year's smashing Tea Party success (the tea and crumpets kind, not the sleazy political kind), many of you have been eagerly awaiting this year's gala event, and I won't make you hold your breath any longer. It is an idea with such potential, it will be so amazing, I know you must be dying to hear it... Okay, sorry, I just had to.

Lady Katie and Fair Claire will be celebrating the second anniversary of their birth with a Princess Masquerade Ball. In my mind, the guests will wear Renaissance ball gowns, heraldic tunics, armor, and, of course, colorful masks. The tables will be laden with silver trays heaping with food fit for a princess (read: cheese, crackers, fruit, cookies, etc.). We will have banners and flags, flying our colors boldly, and rich tapestries gracing the bare stone walls... I mean, colorful plaster walls... of our home. I have a giant piece of cardboard that is just waiting to be used, and I'm thinking it's castle time. I can make "parchment" or "vellum" invitations from brown paper bags and seal them with crayon wax or stickers or possibly colored hot glue. The girls will need dresses made, and Eli's dragon tunic is getting a little small... Oh, dear, I've got a lot of work to do, and only two months to do it in, I had better get off the computer and get started....

Party planning has always been a passion of mine, as you may have guessed if you read Fruit Pizza for Breakfast. I love coming up with a theme, decor, costumes, and a menu that all tie in together. Eli's best birthday parties have been his Tonka Truck party (he had a giant Tonka truck filled with no-bake cookies instead of a cake) and his Cowboy party (complete with a rack of ribs, cornbread, and beans and Roy Rogers playing in the background). I prefer themes that are not related to Disney characters and that you cannot buy a "party kit" for. I thrill in the chase; the scavenger hunt for the perfect props energizes and excites me. No, a kit party is too easy (and too expensive). I'm not paying $5 for 8 plates when I can buy 25 plates for $1. No sir, my budget is best saved for other things, like an $8 can of stone-textured spray paint for the cardboard castle that I can see forming in my head... Yes, things that give a party texture are worth spending money on, not something that's going to be covered up in food anyway and then thrown away as soon as you are finished with it. Ahh, the possibilities...

Do you have any ideas or suggestions that go with this theme? I would be happy to hear them! I will post pictures as I get props and costumes finished. (Finally, you say, the 'Cardboard Crafter' does something crafty!)

Katie and Claire's first birthday party was a lot of fun for big brother, cousins,
Susie, and Hobbes. Even if they don't remember it, the rest of us do, and the
 girls will love the pictures when the get older.

Wednesday, March 9, 2011

The Art of Putting Your Best Face Forward, or Fun with Photo Editing

When I don't have the opportunity to work in my studio, I often spend my time in the digital realm, plying my creative craft as best I can. I write, I read, I do research, and sometimes, I play with pictures. My current favorite tool for this pursuit is PhotoScape, a free photo-editing program one can download in minutes, simple enough for a novice but sophisticated enough to produce some great effects. Unlike Adobe Photoshop, you do not need to take college level classes to figure out how to brighten or blur an image, it's pretty self explanatory, and like I said, it's FREE. I especially like the "Mole Removal" (read: concealer) tool for removing all those unsightly blemishes, the "Antique" options for authentic-looking old photos, and the "Fake Tilt-Shift" for a hazy, dream-like feel.

I never post a new profile picture to my Facebook page that hasn't been enhanced in some way, and no, I don't think that's cheating. Some people wear make-up every day to put their best face forward, I do not. Instead, I smooth my skin and emphasize my eyes digitally, and now you can do the same. Below are some examples of what PhotoScape can do for you. Enjoy!

I love turning an otherwise unremarkable picture into something special. I like
to think that this picture of my son looks surreal, like something out of a dream.

I ordered a 5X7 print of this picture from and it came in the mail a few
days later. Now it is framed and on display with various other "old" family photos.

I have heightened the color and softened the edges of this picture, giving the appearance
of a wind-chapped face. It was cold that day, but not so much in our hotel room,
which is where this photo was taken.

What are your favorite photo-editing tools? (I used to like scissors and glue, but now the grown-up me prefers something more sophisticated and less "messy.")

Monday, March 7, 2011

The Art of Being a Kid Again, or We Are All Children at Heart

The Toy Story 3 Barbie doll is a remake of a classic.
My very first Barbie had this same outfit, sans sparkle.
This past weekend I went on a road trip. No friends, this was not one of those college road trips where you pack the car full of junk food and drugs and set out West with a handful of tourism pamphlets and a few printouts from Mapquest to seek your fortune (although, come to think of it, we were headed west, and we did end up at a college). My stalwart companions on this particular trek were, in fact, people I have known much longer than my college roommate: my mother and my sisters. Our mission: to boldly go where no family had gone before (okay, where some families have gone before), Berea College, to witness my baby sister's stage debut.

This is probably the first time in about ten years that the five of us have been together absent husbands, boyfriends, BFF's, and other hangers-on, and it was like being a kid again, just us girls. It was somewhat comforting to note that family never changes: my older sister was still the 'pokey' one (the last to get ready for breakfast and the last to finish each meal) and the moody one (both the happiest and the grouchiest of the group, depending on her sleep and anxiety level). My younger sister was still a stickler for details (as she remembers them) and the first to call 'shotgun' or 'jinx,' but also a generous soul, offering to pay for our tickets and share her daiquiri. The baby of the family was probably more like her childhood, free-spirited self than I have seen her in years, without the load of frustration and loneliness she had borne during her teenage years. And Mom was, of course, Mom: conservative and cautious, plain-spoken and proud as a red hen fussing over her brood of fluffy yellow chicks.

We fell back into old patterns easily enough, recalling ancient disputes with humor and discussing new developments in our lives un-self-consciously. Letting Mom drive and allowing the group to make decisions and for me to be personally off the hook for a while was a nice change. Reliving some of our cherished memories and family lore together was priceless. I found it relaxing to be the kid again, away from my own children and responsibilities, if only for a day.

Walking down the toy aisle at Wal-Mart with the girls, discussing Barbie's newest look and what we like and don't like about Mattel's design changes ushered in vivid memories. As children, we would spend hours setting up homes for our own Barbie dolls. The two older sisters and I would meticulously arrange bedrooms, kitchens, living rooms, schools, etc. with homemade miniature books, stuffed animals, food made of baked dough, you name it, before we could begin playing in earnest. Dad would walk in and ask what we were playing.
"Barbies," we would reply unanimously.
"Who is winning?" he would ask.
"You don't win at Barbie's Dad, that's not how you play."
Then our baby sister would swing the door wide, asking to play with us, the big girls. As always, we would say, "No, you don't play right," and she would go crying to Mom, heartbroken because of her exclusion. This weekend she had not been excluded: she was the Star.

In the check-out line, I smiled in anticipation at the new dolls my mother was buying me as a late birthday gift, once again remembering things of childhood. The first thing I did when I opened the package was to take off the dolls' clothes to see how they were constructed, and my sisters laughed at how little I, too, had changed since I was a kid.

The moral of the story: we are the same people we have always been, and we will always be children at heart, especially in the eyes of our mothers. 

Friday, March 4, 2011

Junk or Art Supplies? Artwork from Recycled Materials

The following blogs have some great artwork made from recycled or found materials. Pay close attention to the third one in particular: the artist makes her elaborate mosaics out of corrugated cardboard! A woman after my own heart. Enjoy.

Web Ecoist: Recycled Bottle Craft Projects

Web Urbanist: Recycled Treasures Converted into Inspired Art

Recycle Scene: Cardboard Art

Thursday, March 3, 2011

Picture of the Day: Glass Houses

Please don't throw any stones! This is absolutely gorgeous.

Click on the image for a larger view. I stumbled upon this image using, and I immediately fell in love. StumbleUpon is a great website for when you have some time to kill or are in search of inspiration and you aren't looking for anything specific. You can rate pages "thumbs up" or "thumbs down" and StumbleUpon will tailor your stumbles to your preferences. I definitely recommend.

Wednesday, March 2, 2011

The Art of Trial and Error, or My Top 6 Favorite Materials

Gorilla glue. Not your mama's glue.
I have tried just about any kind of glue you can think of, from Elmer's school glue to Aleene's Tacky Glue to rubber cement to Gorilla glue, and each has it's purpose: Elmer's works best on paper and wood, Aleene's is wonderful for repairing ceramic dolphin figurines (it's tacky glue, after all), rubber cement is ideal for paper to paper adhesion, and Gorilla glue... well, you get the idea. I also have very strong opinions about duct tape, and they are not favorable. Duct tape will not stick to cardboard, therefore it is dead to me (except, of course, for when that pesky duct work needs to be repaired). The point of all this is that material choice plays an important role in the success of your piece, but the choice of what material to use can be a difficult one, especially to the rookie crafter/young artist. The best way, I've found, to determine the right material is simply to try them. Trial and error is the best way to get a feel for what will and what will not work in a given situation, and more importantly, how it works. I have over 20 years of trial and error experience under my belt, and in that time I have found many go-to products and materials that I can draw upon when tackling a new project. The following is a list of some of my favorites and a brief description of their uses.

1. Mod Podge:  a decoupage glue that works on fabric or paper, stiffening, sealing, or gluing pieces together. It comes in glossy or matte luster and is water soluble for easy clean up. I use it to apply wallpaper in my doll houses, seal papier mache, and make multi-media collages.

2. Hot Glue: the only thing I use on cardboard, it dries quickly and adheres well. Not recommended for plastic, wood, or ceramics, hot glue works best on textured surfaces. It is a staple in my doll house building kit. You can purchase a hot glue gun and refills at your local craft store, Wal-Mart, or dollar store. (Tip: It's cheaper if you avoid the craft store.)

3. Celluclay: a great papier mache product, it is basically paper pulp. Just add water and voila! Afterward it can be sanded, painted, or sealed (I used Mod Podge, but a clear spray sealer would also work well). This stuff got me through my sculpture classes in college. The only downside--the smell, a mixture of mildew and old shoe.

4. Plaster Strips: better than traditional papier mache because it dries faster and harder, plaster bandages can be cut to size when dry and molded over any armature or form when wet. For a smooth surface, cover in Celluclay. I used this to make molds of my niece and nephew's praying hands as a keepsake for their grandparents, covered in Celluclay, of course.

5. Brown Paper Bags (see Paper or Plastic?): an inexpensive material, brown paper bags have many uses from faux parchment to gift wrap, and I love a neutral brown as a backdrop for something colorful. I have also used brown paper towels and brown butcher paper to similar purpose, often with Mod Podge.

6. Cardboard: one of my absolute favorite materials, cardboard is ubiquitous. I find interesting bits in almost every package, from circles in a frozen pizza box to wonderful rectangular pieces in a package of Onesies. Cardboard tubes from gift wrap, paper towels, etc. can also be fun to use and add an interesting dimension to your craft project. Layered with the corrugation  going in opposite directions, it can be quite sturdy. I have made doll houses, hats, photo props, and costume pieces out of cardboard, and it hasn't let me down yet.

My all-time favorite crafting material!

Add to these materials some sharp scissors, a few acrylic paints, and some brushes, and you can make almost anything. What are some of your favorite products and materials, and how have you used them?

Tuesday, March 1, 2011

Visual Feast

I love to look at pictures, there's nothing better to capture the imagination and to fill the head until it's brimming with inspiration. Pictures with vivid color, rich texture, or breathtaking images make one yearn to touch, to feel, to be in the moment, and to tell about it. Pictures can fill us with stories, even if they aren't our own.

Landscapes and Sunsets

Past and Present


Please post links to your favorite inspirational pictures.