Category Archives: DIY

my new happy place and more

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Whenever I move, I need to find a happy place away from the chaos of little boys. Where I can unwind and think. (Lately I’ve been squeezing my temples with my palms when I have all three boys clamoring at me, as if my head will explode. Sometimes I think it will.) And because I don’t have my pottery shop yet (soon!), I’ve been looking in the community for this place.

So far, the trails behind our house up to the aqua duct have been where I go to get away. I take the dirt trails to the paved path, and up there, if it’s not too windy, it’s quiet and I can see the houses and yards below — small, as if I can hold them in my palm. The other day, I ran up there as fast as I could. The mountains stood in the distance, beckoning me. And, down below, there was a grove of Joshua trees. I wandered down into the quiet. About 20 ravens gathered in a tree and were chatting with each other, as if on a break from their hunting and flying to gossip. A lizard darted across the path in front of my feet. A butterfly flitted by my face. And for a moment, I forgot that we live in a city. I stood still and absorbed the quiet.

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Yesterday, after registering C. in Kindergarten (to my disbelief), I wandered into a coffee shop in Quartz Hill called the Sagebrush Cafe. A local artist’s acrylic paintings adorned the walls. Women in skirts and pony tails sat cross-legged, chatting and laughing. The cafe sold sandwiches (avocado toast!) and a delicious latte and I felt, for a moment, I was back in an urban center instead of a conservative enclave in California. I could see myself meeting girlfriends there and talking about schools and parenting and arts. And I could also see my pottery in there — perhaps some mugs and pour overs.

Our house, thankfully, is coming together. Our kitchen is (mostly) done — we still plan to add a counter, another cabinet and a backsplash. The floors are in.

 

IMG_9944We painted the kitchen, living room and dining room. Our window seat is done save for the doors — and I love our cushion and pillows. The bathroom is usable. We’re working on the yard and the garage now.  The projects are never-ending, but now we’re not living in a construction zone and I’ve been cooking healthy foods (thank you Cookie and Kate blog!) And I feel so much better than I did in the winter.

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And… and! We have a summer full of travels and friends and then I can get back to this community when C. starts school and we can both make friends. Yes, after a long winter with some scary family illnesses and a renovation, I’m feeling good. Hope you are too, wherever you are. Happy weekend. x

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lighting up a room

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It started with me saying we need a small lamp for our guest-room nightstand. It ended, two months later, with A.’s first lamp.

One evening in October, after C. was in bed, we sat together on our black leather lounger and scrolled through a New York company’s website for wood.

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We were looking for 4×4 blocks, and for wood that doesn’t irritate skin. We were looking for wood that would polish well, and that A. could shape on his three-inch metal lathe. We went with ebony and zapote.

A. bought miniature wood-turning tools. He practiced on small pieces of oak — and then made the base.

He turned and threaded ebony to hold the bulb socket and the shade that he bought from World Market.

And voila! Here it is. A. just got a bigger lathe for his next project. He’s hooked.

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i love my bowls (and a new understanding of the creative process)

Oh my god, you guys, I picked up my pots last night at our pottery party, and can I just say that I am thrilled with the results. I’m seeing improvement! I’m seeing improvement! Not only in my throwing, but also in my glazing. It’s like the spigot, which was trickling before, has opened and I’m overflowing with creativity.

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Now I’m thinking of all of the things I want to make: sushi set, cookie bowl, butter dish, plates, potters for plants, a pitcher, wall hangings, etc. Of course, our place isn’t big enough to hold everything I’m making. A. says he’ll add another shelf in a kitchen cabinet to make room for the bigger bowls. Serving bowls was my goal this time, and I did it.

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This was my third class this year, and the best part of it is that I’m getting a better understanding of how slow a creative process can be. And how it’s worth it to dig in, and dig in, and dig in and get better and better. Each step is slight, so it’s hard to see progress (and to easily get frustrated), but if I compare the first class with the third class, the improvement is obvious. I also feel closer to the pottery community, and that takes time to build those bonds and prove your dedication.

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Lois, my teacher and a talented local artist, has convinced me to enter a few of my pots in the county fair in October, which is something I never would have considered in D.C. I know I won’t win, but that’s not the point — the point is that I’m getting more and more involved in the creative community. It feels more natural here than in a big city. The barriers aren’t so great: the cost is lower, it’s more convenient (Lois lives a mile up the street) and it’s less competitive. Lois has also asked me to demonstrate throwing pots during the Open Studio Tours, a local event where 30-some artists open their studios to the public to raise money for the Maturango Museum. I’ll get to throw all day with two other amazing women and glaze and keep what I make — what more could I ask for?

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As for the next weekly class, I’ll have to wait till next year, but I plan to channel my brimming energy into other creative endeavors.

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tea for me

The past few nights, I’ve dreaded going to sleep because my body is fighting off a head cold. It’s deep in my throat and I know that when I lie down, the cold will settle and pulse to make my head throb. Several hundred tissues later, I feel like a zombie, my head swimming.

A. and C. have luckily been spared it. So Friday was my first official sick day as a stay-at-home mom, and A. whisked C. away to the museum’s children hour to learn about desert critters while I tried to sleep (orders from my concerned husband).

I’ve been downing hot tea rich with honey to sooth my sore throat and reading Charles Baxter and ordering yarn to crochet another blanket.

A. asked me last Thursday, before I felt really bad, “What can I make you? I need a project.” We decided on a small lamp for our guest room to sit on the nightstand he made. We spent two hours looking online at rare wood so he could experiment and make something spectacular.

Then, Friday, I said, my nose red and chapped and my hair scraggly, “How about a tea-bag holder? It would be so nice to be able to grab a tea without digging into the cupboard and through those bulky boxes.”

So, A. designed one out of scraps of oak he had lying around, and he carefully put on ebony feet. He finished it, stain and all, in two days.

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It’s Sunday morning, the boys ran off to the park, and I’m drinking rooibos chai tea from my favorite homemade mug, reading the Sunday Times and noticing only slight pain when I swallow. And I can’t help but sit and marvel at just how talented A. is. I think he should take this show on the road.

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funky tabletop and handle-heavy mugs

A. finished his latest piece of furniture — from decades-old wood we found in the Indian Wells Valley. This time, he experimented with shapes, and he made a hexagonal top with three legs to support it. I was skeptical of the design at first, but it turned out fantastic and it replaces the last table he made, which has been relegated from our living room to our guest room.

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And I finally (finally!) am getting the hang of making mugs, though my handles are a bit too thick, which I’ll work on next class at Lois Hinman’s studio. It starts in a few weeks, and I can’t wait to practice more: I have found that pottery, as with any creative endeavor, takes hours upon hours of practice to improve. I’m seeing progress. And it’s a great reminder that it takes time — so much time — to be a master at anything.

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from rough to shine: my latest hobby

Before I moved to the desert, I had never heard of rock tumbling.

In March, I went on a hike in the Indian Wells Valley with A., C., and my in-laws, and my MIL and I starting noticing beautiful, colorful, sparkling rocks. They glinted in the sun. Our pace slowed as our necks folded down and we searched the desert dirt. I filled my cargo pants pockets with red and and green and blue and striped rocks.

Along the way, A. and my FIL suggested rock tumbling. A. said he’d look into making me a tumbler.

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Truly, this was a new concept for me. Why would anyone tumble rocks? (I have since discovered other friends either don’t get it or also haven’t heard of it — one derided it as a “first-grade science experiment,” another said, “You mean, like the website Tumblr?”)

A. explored making a rock tumbler, and decided it was easier to buy one. So he did.

I tumbled my first batch before we left for the east coast. The process takes an entire month — or more — of tumbling rocks in a rubber container with either grit or polish. Day and night.

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The results are amazing. I’m still deciding what to do with them (ideas are welcome!). A couple of them will probably be paper weights. A few turned into beautiful pendants for necklaces. The others may fill a glass with a candle in it. We’ve talked about making mosaics (wall art, or as part of a tabletop) and coasters and table runners and bracelets. One friend even suggested gluing them into a bird house.

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I’m on my second batch now, and I’m checking the rocks daily, during C.’s nap, washing off the grit with the hose and studying each one as they transform from rough to shine.

I’ve learned that lapidary is an art. I’ve learned that there is a whole community of rock hounds who live in the Mojave, including a woman a few blocks from my house who owns a store full of rocks from all over the world. I’ve learned that there are old mines in California, and near them lie opal and quartz and jasper and petrified wood.

I have also learned that geology fascinates me, and that I love that I can wrap my hand around an object that I found that is millions of years old and turn it into a gem. It makes me feel connected to the earth.

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quiet moments and creative inspiration

On Friday after a Mexican dinner out — once C. was asleep in his crib — A. and I migrated to our bright yellow kitchen. A. stood and painted lettering on hand-held signs for our friends’ wedding in Soho in NYC in two weeks. I sat cross-legged on a chair and crocheted a hat for my niece. The table was full of paints and paper and water and yarn and we worked in the quiet, enjoying each others’ company and the warm night breeze through the window screens.

I find I work best in quiet, whether I’m writing or photographing or throwing pots. It’s in the quiet that I can really focus. It’s true for A., too, who never wants me to interrupt him while he’s wood-working.

Here are a few things we’ve made out of our recent quiet — plus a cool sewing project from my MIL. All of these things make me smile.

Purple flowers in our backyard. I love photographing flowers (and I need a better macro lens). On Friday, the after-sunset splash of color — like a painting — surprised me.

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A hat I crocheted a few weeks ago with yarn I bought in L.A. It gives me the urge to throw on a thick wool sweater and go to Nova Scotia and look out at fishing boats while sipping steaming hot cocoa. (I must be ready for a cold-weather vacation.)

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Wedding signs A. made for friends on request — he bought and cut the wood, painted the pieces pink, put on the dark gray border, sanded off spots to make it “shabby chic” and then wrote the script. I can’t wait to see the stunning bride (who’s marrying this guy) holding them. (Also, maybe A. can have a side business?)

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This photo that I took about a month or two ago of C. wearing a robe that his nonna sewed for him. It fits him so perfectly that it makes me consider pulling our sewing machine down off of a shelf in our closet. With zero shopping in our quiet desert town, maybe I should make myself a skirt or two. (Hmmmmm….)

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What has inspired you lately?

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a sea-salt caramel fiasco

When I worked in Chinatown in D.C., I’d trek weekly to Chop’t, a make-your-own salad joint, a few blocks from the office. There was always a line snaking out the door, most people’s noses glued to their smart phones, but I craved veggies, so I’d stand and wait, rubbing my pregnant belly and staring down at my fat ankles. At the registers sat a big jar of salted caramels. I could get two for $1. Back at my desk, I’d think with glee, “This bite costs 25 cents, but it’s worth it.”

And then, one day, I realized: “Why don’t I just make them myself?” So I jotted it down on my “Things to do while on maternity leave” list: “Make sea-salt caramels.” (Heh, I forgot about that list in the newborn fog.)

Well, C. is 17 months old and we have since moved to the California desert, far away from any place to buy gooey sea-salt caramels.

This week, mulling over what project to tackle, I thought: “It’s caramel time!”

People rave about Ina Garten’s recipe on the Food Network. Among other things, it calls for 1/4 cup light corn oil and a candy thermometer. 

So I lug C. to the grocery store to buy the ingredients. As soon I return and unbuckle C., I realize I forgot the thermometer. And then, in the kitchen, I notice the oil is full of high-fructose corn syrup. Yikes. (This flies in the face of my bid to eat natural sugars, but I make an exception since it’s something I’ve always to make.)

After dinner, I tell A. I’m off to get a candy thermometer. It’s after 9 p.m., I’m tired, but I go anyway and the only candy thermometer I see is $2.99. Hm. That seems cheap. I buy it.

I read more comments — “Don’t use a cheap candy thermometer,” and “A candy thermometer is vital!”

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The next day, while C. is napping, I start one pot for the sugar, water and corn syrup. I put the cream and butter on the other burner. I open my candy thermometer, fumble it, watch it sail through the air in slow motion and CRASH, shatter to pieces on the kitchen floor. Nice. Now I’m trying not to step on glass shards while I’ve got pure sugar boiling like a thick lava on the stove.

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help. i can’t stop making hats.

I think a zombie has overtaken my body, and all it wants to do is crochet hats.

Before C. was born (he’s a December baby), I had the hardest time finding a cool hat for him, so I ended up putting the only hat I could find on our baby registry. When C. was 8 days old, our best friend and talented photographer S. did a photo shoot of him, and this hat made us double over and squeeze our eyes shut with laughter. Poor kid may get me some day for this one.

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So now I keep thinking of friends who are pregnant and will need hats for their babes and I’m crocheting like a madwoman so I have gifts on hand. C. in Alexandria, Va., who has two girls already, could have a boy! C. and J. in Maryland are having their first boy, and wait, so is W. in Chicago.

It’s a bit insane to make so many hats when it’s 80 degrees in the desert and will only get hotter.

A. grinned at me the other night, as I sat on our brown couch under a blanket, crocheting away in the quiet and totally zen.

“You’re going to be the best grannie,” he said.

“Get away,” I said. “You taught me, so you can’t make fun.”

But he’s right: I’m out of control. So much so, that I haven’t been reading or writing or doing much of anything else. Our joke is, “One more row.”

It’s satisfying to create — I can make a hat in one evening — and see quick results. For you crocheting addicts, I’ve mostly used this pattern, and I’m drawn to this half double crochet pattern, too.

The zombie is getting better with time (among the first, top right, looks like a football helmet from the 1920s). But I have to exorcise it for now and put down my hook and tend to other matters that tug at the heart.

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stepping up his (furniture) game

A. made his first piece of furniture with his new table saw, and I might be biased, but I think it’s beautiful. We calculated how much time it took him — and the cost of the wood — and figured he could quit his job is someone is willing to pay $400 for it. Anyone want a step stool? (Just kidding, this one is for C.!)

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