Tag Archives: DIY

lighting up a room

first lamp

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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a homemade christmas

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This year we’re getting into the holiday spirit, which says a lot because both A. and I have been scrooges in our adult lives — though I always knew that would change if I had kids.

C., who turned two this month, is old enough to get the magic of Christmas. And because I’m turning into a six-bedroom house at 30 weeks pregnant, family — including my 18-month-old niece — traveled cross-country to the desert, where the skies are California blue with highs in the 60s, but it’s cold enough in the evenings to light a fire.

So this year was our chance to decorate with homemade family ornaments and stockings that will last year over year and create our traditions.

We made ornaments to deck the halls. A. turned wood and glued on rocks I tumbled to make wreaths.

wreath ornaments

We picked up pinecones lying haphazardly in our backyard and strung jute through them. I made a bulb (picked up a small plastic one from WalMart) filled with pine and pomegranates.

A. made a bell out of wood, using a tumbled rock as his knocker.

homemade bell ornament

I found a recipe for homemade gingerbread ornaments and made stars, snowmen and Christmas trees.

And A. made a star for the top for the top of the tree out of wood and painted it our kitchen yellow.

Over the past month, A. and I crocheted stockings (see photo above) to hang on the mantel. I spent a few hours looking for patterns — for the big red stocking to the far left, I followed this pattern, and for the big white stocking with red stripes, I followed this pattern.

But I really wanted to replicate a cream-colored knit stocking I saw in the Anthropologie catalogue.

The Anthropologie stocking

The Anthropologie stocking

So I made up my own pattern (the two cream colored ones above) — I’m thrilled I’m getting good enough to make my own patterns. A. crocheted three of them, including the Dr. Seuss boot and small red-and white-striped one. (We think you can see our personalities quite clearly though the stockings.)

I’ve been reading C. “Twas the Night Before Christmas” and “Santa Mouse.” And we plan to leave Santa homemade cookies — with a handwritten note and a thick glass of milk — near the fireplace before C. goes to bed on Christmas eve.

We’ll have a wood-burning fire and cuddle under blankets and play board games and watch C. and his cousin sing “Jingle Bells” on a homemade stage A. made.

Yes, I’m excited about Christmas this year. I hope you are, too. Merry Christmas to all and to all a good night.

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our first fall in the desert

The leaves are turning — golden hues that light up our backyard. It feels like fall in the desert with a few cloudy days, and I’ve been bursting with happiness.

falltree

Our days are still quiet, but I’ve finally, finally — after nearly a year of living in the California desert — invited a few friends over for playdates. The kids are kind, and the moms are cool. C., our almost two-year-old, who is saying things like, “We’re having a conversation, mama,” and, “It’s cloudy outside, mama,” and “You’re my angel, mama,” is ready to be social and gets giddy when I tell him N. or K. are coming over. We sit on our backyard patio in the morning in slippers and sweaters, eating vanilla chai scones and chatting, while the kids chase each other under the pomegranate trees.

Last week, I realized that it would be nice for the little ones to have a table to sit at on the patio. So, in three days, A. made a kiddie picnic table out of cedar, which I love. A. often designs his own furniture, but he “stole” (his word) this idea from a woman in Alaska, who provides drawings and dimensions on her beautiful blog, though he added his own touches.

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C and his picnic table

The cooler weather makes me want to read in the evenings, snuggled up under blankets, feeling the baby kick me gently (I’m 25 weeks already, where is the time going?). I’m crocheting like a madwoman: my latest challenge is to teach myself how to cable. I made mittens (using a pattern provided by this woman, who is also from Alaska) and I’m in the midst of making a hat that is more complex. Next, I’ll  turn to Christmas stockings to hang on our fireplace, since family is coming to us this year.

cabled mittens and hat

During C.’s naps, I warm hot chocolate or malted milk with vanilla, bake muffins or bread and listen to author interviews on NPR. I’ve been experimenting with cooking: carrot soup with lemon tahini sauce, sweet potato and kale frittata, roasted spaghetti squash with parmesan. I’m putting pomegranate seeds on everything: my morning oatmeal, spinach salads with feta, apple muffins.

The days are still warm — in the 60s — so I can enjoy walks along the bike path and marvel at the mountains.

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I love fall, and I love that though we’re in the desert, we still get a taste of it before the high winds blow, the leaves fall off of the trees, and the ground freezes over.

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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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apricot nirvana (or hell, whichever way you look at it)

After A. got home from work this evening, he went into the backyard, and then peeked his handsome face through the kitchen window screen.

“What happened?” he said. “You didn’t pick any?”

We had agreed I’d pick a bunch of apricots — that are just starting to ripen — before we head east tomorrow.

I had picked 60. Sixty apricots.

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And the tree still looks full.

C. helped me. I stood on a rickety chair in the 100-degree mid-morning shade and handed them to him one at a time — and he eagerly dropped them in the colander. Then he picked a handful of green ones from the low branches, very proud of himself.

“Apricot!” he said, beaming, and added to our collection. (Sadly, I had to toss those.)

I blanched and froze 40 of them. And then I made a honey-sweetened apricot butter infused with lavender that we got in our farm box yesterday.

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I canned two jars and tied ’em up all pretty.

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This evening, A. took bucket-loads of apricots to our neighbors, almost all of whom are retired. He stopped at five houses — and dished out 12 a house. One neighbor was especially grateful — said he’s been trying to eat more orange-colored fruit.

Now A. is at the stove making apricot preserves — without any sugar — out of 100 more apricots.

He picked all of them this evening.

And the tree still looks full.

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I’ve been eating a few apricots a day. Plus, I put them in my morning oatmeal. And we’re using them as ice cubes in our white wine.

Many apricots will be ready for the pickin’ while we’re visiting friends and celebrating a few weddings. So we’ve told a couple friends to come by and help themselves. And we’ve told the birds to have at it.

And honestly, I think it’s OK we’ll be gone for a bit.

‘Cause my skin is turning a slight orange: I’m a little afraid we’re about to turn into apricots.

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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!”

saltedcaramels

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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