Tuesday, June 29, 2010

Another pretty thing

Hello, class! Today we're going to learn how to make a ring or pendant. Basically, the technique is the same, but of course, the product is different (what I mean is, you wear one around your neck and one around your finger) (when you're done with the project, you know).
You will need a few supplies, but first, I want to show you where to go. This is it: it's a shop in Ann Arbor called Found. I promise you will love it.

If you want to visit their website, just click on the picture above, and you can see all the very pretty things they have for you to buy. But remember to stay focused: you're supposed to get a Patera pendant (that's Italian for little tray) (because, as you see below, the thingies are a little like trays--little ones). Also, get a bottle of Gel du Soleil, which is a Very Important Liquid. And don't forget to pick up your instruction sheet, just in case. Just in case you're tempted to buy the supplies online, I want to urge you right now to get up and go to the shop. (I'm going on Thursday, if you want to join me. Thai for dinner!)

This is what I bought. It was only 3.50! Three dollars and fifty cents. Crazy, I know.

I also bought this nice guy. I think he was 4.50. I know, I was surprised too. And the funny thing is, I had just left a book store that also sold jewelry and I was oogling at some *already made* pendants, thinking Oh, I wish I knew how to make one of these and also thinking because I sure don't want to plop down 18.50 for something I can probably make myself. If, that is, I had the right supplies. So, imagine my shock and elation when I strolled into Found and (ahem) found these two. And there were more shapes and designs, too. I just didn't want to go crazy and buy every single one before I'd tried making one.
So, the next thing to do is to figure out what you want to put inside your little guys. You can simply cut out patterned paper, which would have been very simple. But, I thought, a little too simple. For Kir must make things as tricky as possible. First, I tried to email one of my students, who is a masterful artist. I was hoping I could commission her to draw me a Tiny Little Cool Thing which I would then cut to fit into one of my little guys. Alas, she ignored my email. I am hoping she was just too busy with summer to reply. That's what I've been telling myself.
Since she didn't feel ready/able/willing to help me, I had to help myself. So, I traced the shape of each piece onto its own piece of watercolor paper. I made lots of 'em because sometimes I make mistakes and I like to plan for lots of them. Besides, it's more fun to make lots of little drawings rather than just one. Here are a few of my first few sketches. That's a badger in the top left corner, and I think the guy below him is a squirrel, but I'm not sure (sometimes it's just hard to differentiate between rodents). Also, I tried drawing a little girl. I really wanted to draw a fox but he wasn't cooperating with me. So, I gave up on him for awhile.

Next comes the fun part. The painting. These (below) are the drawings I made for the ring (that's why they're square). I obviously didn't like that tree in the bottom corner. Far too silly for me. But the alligator has a nice smile, and everyone knows mice love balloons. Especially mice who wear aprons. (You may have thought it's a skirt. It's not.) Oh, and once the paint dries, you can outline stuff with cool archival pens like I did. Makes the image pop right out.
Once you find one you like, poll everyone in the house and make sure it's a unanimous choice. Mustn't be too hasty to cut, my friend. Then, once they've all cast their votes, go with your original impulse and cut out your favroite. Democracy only goes so far in the crafty world.

You may have to shape it a little to fit because obviously, if you traced the outside of your pendant and ring to get the basic shape, you'll be making your drawings a little big. Try not to cut it down too much, but if you do, console yourself with the reminder that even the Amish aren't perfect.
Once you've got your paintings (or patterned paper) cut to fit, use a paintbrush to apply a thin coat of Modge Podge to the inside of the pendant (or ring). Then stick your painting (or what have you) in place and apply another coat of Modge Podge over top. You might be tempted to skip this step because maybe you don't have Modge Podge. Don't do it! (Ok, the truth is, you can use any decoupage-ish sort of glue. I just said Modge Podge because it sounds cool and it rhymes. I used some 0ff-brand stuff myself.) It's really important because it seals your image and keeps the colors fresh and in their rightful places (i.e., your ink won't run).
Once the Modge Podge has dried, you get to uncork the Gel du Soleil. Basically, this is a UV activated epoxy. (And I want to warn all you psychotic substance-sniffing readers: the fumes are very, very heady. So get close--very, very close.) (But, all you wives-of-husbands-who-use-epoxy readers: it doesn't smell like dog poo like HIS epoxy does--so that's a huge relief.)
Start at the outside and work your way in. I traced around the outer edges with my Gel du Soleil and worked my way to the middle. If you get a bubble, don't try to pop it with a pin like the instructional videos recommend. I chased one pesky bubble around and around my pendant for a Very Long Time. Then I became wise unto the ways of the World of Patera and used a toothpick. Pop! It was over. (I'm talking about the bubble.)
Set your dudes in a (level) sunny spot to dry. Let the first layer dry for about 20 minutes, and then apply another layer. Some pendants (or rings) might be deeper than others, so they might require more layers. My ring needed three layers and my pendant needed four.

Here are two more Very Important Things I learned in this process:
1) However much you are tempted to, DO NOT touch the surface of the Gel du Soleil as it's drying. Your fingerprint will be captured forever.
2) Please make sure your painting is facing the right way. My poor little narwhal shall always be a bit more seasick than any right-minded narwhal should be. This is because I glued him in totally sideways. He'll have to spend his entire life looking at my pinkie instead of out at the world. (Don't judge me: I'm a novice.)

After applying the last layer of Gel du Soleil, let the dudes dry overnight, just to be safe.
Meanwhile, if you're like me, you may decide to look at the calendar while exhaling those last fumes of you know what. If, upon calendar-ish perusal, you suddenly realize that you did indeed totally miss making (and, 0f course, mailing) birthday cards to not one, not two but three people, you can use some of your extra paintings to make tiny little birthday cards.

You can even make tiny little envelopes to put them in. And then, you can put that in a bigger envelope and a bigger one and a bigger one--until you have a whole Russian nesting doll set of envelopes for someone very lucky to open. Hopefully, said person will feel so lucky that she totally forgets how sad she was that she didn't get a card from you on her birthday.

Well, class, I hope you enjoyed your lesson today. If you'd like some more help or advice about making a pendant, here is a website you can visit for an instructional video--and here is another video. Or, if you are either a) a lazy bum, or b) geographically distant from Ann Arbor, or c) a Wolverine hater, here is a website you can visit to buy the charms online.
So, the supplies:
Patera Pedant or Ring
Gel du Soleil
Modge Podge (or similar stuff)
Watercolor paper or patterned paper
Scissors (I like to use really small scissors)
Pencil, paintbrush, paints, archival pen...
Toothpick (just in case of bubbles)
Sunlight ;)

Wednesday, June 23, 2010

The Forgotten Garden

It's not so much that I hate being outside; it's more that I don't like to get my hands dirty. So, when I was growing up and our summertime daily chores inevitably included hoeing a row or two in the garden, I was always itching to strike a bargain: I would trade house cleaning--top to bottom--for garden work. And my mom almost always took the deal (sucka!).
That said, it quite surprised me to find myself itching to garden as I read this book. But after finishing it and settling back into the couch to ponder my surprising mental state, I realized what I am really itching for: a gardener! I don't want to do the work, but I certainly would not mind reaping the benefits of having a peaceful, colorful outdoor haven (which would be, of course, free of pesky visitors) (I'm talking about bugs) (the annoying kind).

So, on to the book review. But first, a qualifying statement: please don't get turned off by either a) the sheer meaty heft of the book or b) the fact that it spans four generations. The page number doesn't daunt me, but the generational thing--me not likey that sort so much. But Kate Morton (that would be the author) is wise unto the ways of readers like me, and she wrote a generation book even I could enjoy.

Okay, so now I'm going to start in here. It starts in 1913 with a little girl hiding on a ship. She's been told to hide by the Authoress, and she's not quite sure where the Authoress has gone. But she's very good at hiding and she doesn't come out till the ship has begun its journey. She ends up in Australia, alone on the docks with only a small white suitcase including a hairbrush, a dress, and a beautifully illustrated book of fairy tales.

In 2005, that little girl is an old woman and her granddaughter Cassandra sits by her bedside as she dies. And then, after Nell's funeral, Cassandra learns that her grandmother's past is folded and creased with mystery. A few weeks later, Cassandra learns that her grandmother has left her everything in her will, including the deed to a cottage in Cornwall. From there, the novel spirals through the saga as Nell pursues her past, as Cassandra tries to both unravel her grandmother's mystery while recovering from her own losses, and as Nell's mother (shh: I can't tell who--that's part of the mystery) does her own mysterious business.

In other generational novels I've read and loathed, part one is dedicated to the first generation, then part two to the next, and so on. I'd much rather read a trilogy, for just as I'm getting involved in her life story, grandma gets old and dies. And although some of the characters age and die in the course of this novel, it's not so bad. Here's why: Morton changes it all up, chapter by chapter. Although some readers may get time-travel whiplash after skimming from 1900 to 1975 to 2005 then back to 1913, I found it refreshing. Morton is a novelist who knows how to end a chapter well, and she often unearths a clue in one time period and then tells the story behind the clue in the following chapter.

The book feels real, too, whether the chapter is set at Blackhurst manor in its Victorian splendor, or whether the chapter is set in London's Victorian slums--or modern Brisbane (which, of course, is the one in Australia) or London. Not as much info on food as I'd prefer (aside from a lot of broth--BROTH? I know, disappointing, isn't it?), but you can't have everything.

But as I mentioned before, the description of the garden at the end of the maze, the garden outside a cottage perched on a cliff in Cornwall, that garden is what captivated me. That, and the mystery of Nell's unaccompanied voyage across the ocean and the Authoress's beautiful fairy tales. (Yeah, that's right. Three of those fairy tales are retold in the novel. How cool is that? And I'm sorry if you end up wanting to buy the illustrated book of fairy tales. It was a limited edition, single printing. Oh, and also just part of the novel. Not really ever created.)

So, if you enjoy a slowly unfolding mystery, if you have a strong stomach for quick time travel, and if you appreciate the delicate beauty of a garden that may just contain a few fairies, then this is a book you should read.

Sunday, June 20, 2010

Slow but sweet

I think I was fourteen when I read my first Robin McKinley book: The Hero and the Crown. That and The Blue Sword are her two finest, I believe. Both are set in mythical Damar, and both throb with the timeless pulse of a strong story well told. Not long later, I read The Outlaws of Sherwood, her retelling of the Robin Hood story.
Since then, I think I've read just about everything else McKinley has written, and when I was browsing amazon and found this new novel, I didn't hesitate to add it to my wish list.

Clint got it for my birthday, and I settled down into its pages quickly.
Chalice tells the tale of a land where demesnes are rule by Masters, who are aided by a Circle of nine. One of these is the Chalice, the one whose duty is keeping the earthlines in harmony and keeping the members of the demesne unified and bound to the land. Most Chalices are tied to their calling with liquids such as water or wine, or occasionally milk or even blood. None before Mirasol has been connected with honey.
But she was a beekeeper before she was Chalice, and she was called to be Chalice after the former Chalice and Master died of violence. When she becomes Chalice, she feels even more clearly the cries of the earthlines, cries which have caused earthquakes and fallow fields and made animals act strangely.
Mirasol founders through her first few months as Chalice, having no training or apprenticeship and no help from the others of the Circle. Even worse, the new Master is an Elemental Priest, recalled from his tutelage of the Priests of Fire, and he is more fire than human. His touch burns her hand when they first meet, and yet despite this ominous portent, it seems that Mirasol is the only person in the demesne willing to accept him as the true Master.
Over time, their friendship begins to grow until the day, with the help of bees and honey, Mirasol and the Master have to fend off the predations of the Overlord who wants to replace the master with a man of his choosing.

Other reviewers have complained that this novel is slow, that it seems McKinley has tried too hard to stretch a short story into a novel and that in such stretching, she has thinned her tale to a breaking point. I will admit, there were several times in the first fifty pages that I rolled my eyes and wanted to quit.
But I am nothing if not loyal, and for an author like McKinley, I am willing to wait things out. In the twenty years of our writer/reader relationship, she has never disappointed me. By page 100 or so, the story had definitely picked up, and all the (many) details of this land and its rules had been established. At that point, the relationship between Mirasol and her Master became more interesting, more ripe with potential, and the looming conflict with the Heir chosen by the Overlord more ominous.
For someone who has never read a McKinley novel, I would not recommend starting here. Instead, work your way in more easily with one of the Damar novels or The Outlaws of Sherwood. Then read Spindle's End and Deerskin. Then come back to this one.
It is a slow read, but it is very, very sweet. And you'll find yourself wanting to return to that world once it is done and savor it again.

Wednesday, June 16, 2010

On Reading

On Friday, the last day of school, I talked to my students for a moment before summer settled over their brains, its filmy promise of endless days at the lake so much more powerful than my speeches about reading and writing and literature. Fully cognizant of the chance that my words would fall on fallow ground in their summer-soaked minds, I had to at least try.

So, I said, it's been a great year (blah blah blah) and I've enjoyed having you all in class (more blah). And remember, if you want to become better readers and writers, the best way to do it is to read. Set yourselves a goal: try to read at least three books this summer.

As I looked out over their rapturous faces, I realized that not one of them was listening to me. Their ears were filled with the buzz of sunlight reflecting off rippling water.

Then, one of them blinked and turned to me. Then, he spoke. And all of his classmates slowly shook off their collective reverie to listen.

Books? he scoffed. Books are for rich people.

Rich people? I said, shocked. Are you serious?

Yeah, he repeated. Books are for rich people.

Well, I blustered. I'm not rich. And I read all the time.

Yeah, he replied. But you're an English teacher. (Clearly, we're in a category of our own.) (I tried to ignore the derision he shoveled onto that label.)

I looked around at the rest of the class. What do you think? Are books just for rich people?

Almost every one of them nodded. All but three of them. (Who are, of course, now my three favorite students.) I tried to persuade them, to plead with them, to show them the glory of the printed word one more time before they left. But their eyes had taken on the golden glow once more and their minds had fled to summery musings. They were lost to me--for the next three months. In September, I would start afresh, and this time, indoctrinate them much more forcefully (ahem-earnestly).


Tuesday, June 15, 2010

Miss Bumbles

I meant to write a Very Important Post about the shocking revelation I had on the last day of school, but it will have to wait.

As I was (finally) catching up on my favorite blogs, I found a link to Miss Bumbles' etsy site (here) on one of my favorite blogs (Lollychops--why shouldn't craftiness be funny?) and I fell in love.

I'm pretty sure Young Robin Goodfellow is my favorite, but not positive. I also like the dapper fox below. If only I had a Really Good Reason to buy one of these dudes. :(

Any ideas for convincing The Man about the necessity of having a felted wool creature?

Wednesday, June 9, 2010

Compost = delicious

When I think of compost, I think of the Greatest Trick I Ever Played, the one where I whipped the lid off the compost bin just as Ilona was about to perform yet another feat of dexterity and ygrace, wowing the (older) neighbor boys yet again. I don't even have to close my eyes to picture her bare feet kicking at the sky (was she aiming for me? if so, she missed). Later, she said she saw mice scurry right past her nose as she blinked in disbelief at the coffee grounds and eggshells and banana peels that were slowly (and smelly-ly) turning into plant food.

So, when I came across this recipe for Compost Cookie Bars, I wasn't too sure.

Tuesday, June 8, 2010

Handmade Journal Tutorial

I should start this post by admitting that I am a bum.
Not just any bum, either, but the sort of teacher-bum who forgets to get (or make) awards for the students who won the poetry contest SHE SPONSORED. Yeah, that kind of bum. I don't know who was more embarrassed at the awards ceremony: the three winners who had to walk down from the bleachers in front of everyone or the bum of a teacher (me) who only had a handshake to offer in appreciation of their great and magnificent poetic talents.
So, when I went to Ann Arbor this weekend to shop and catch up with my oldest best friend, I had an eye out for good awards. I dragged her through a few used bookstores, looking maybe for a beautifully bound slim book of verse. Nothing. Or, nothing that was both a) good to read and b) in my (I'll admit: low) price range.
Then JJ suggested Hollander's, and I think the heavens really did open up right over my head because I felt a direct beam of light shining on my brain and I'm pretty sure I heard an angelic chorus. Hollander's is, in all seriousness, heaven for those who love paper. It's a bookbinder's store. It's beautiful. Here's a link to the store: Hollander's.

See how lovely it is? Don't you want to go there. (If so, let me know: I'll come along) (If you drive. Me no likey driving on 94.)

Well, I could have bought some very lovely gifts there, and indeed, I did consider it. But when I'm in a crafty, creative place like this, I get these urges.

The urges to make something. To touch and fold paper. To glue it to other pieces of paper. So that's what I did. I made journals for my girls. It was a little bit tricky and I almost had to waste a piece of paper (but I salvaged it!). Also, I have a very small wound on the fleshy part of my hand and I'm still scrubbing the glue off my fingers and the counter. But other than that, it was lovely work indeed.

Here are the things you'll need to make one book:

24 sheets of paper (I bought a pad of drawing paper--9 x 12 sheets--and took it apart 'cause I wanted nice, heavy paper) (but you can use copy paper too!)

Two 1/2" strips of heavy-ish cardstock to reinforce the binding (I cut apart the backing of a crappy notebook) (Maybe a cereal box would work?)

12" x 12" piece of heavy-ish cardstock for the cover

Two 3" x 12" pieces of coordinating cardstock to cover up the edges of the cover

Two 5" x 9" (or so) pieces of another coordinating paper to finish the inside cover

Some DMC floss or heavy thread (more colorful = better)

A really beastly heavy needle. Like the kind you'd use to stab...no...just kidding

Here's how you do it:

1) Find the middle of the cover and glue the two strips of 1/2" cardboardy-stuff to it. Right on top of each other. If you're smart, you'll wait till it dries to proceed. You don't have to, but just be warned: glue is sticky. Very sticky.

2) Make a template for hole placement. I made marks 1/2" from the top and bottom, and then one right in the middle. Keep the template! You'll use it again. Oh, and mark the spot on your binding for the holes.

3) Use that beastly heavy needle to poke three holes right next to each other in the binding. That's right: three holes per measured mark (Here's why: once you make your four folio thingies--that's the little booklets of folded paper, which I'll explain in a minute--you will be sewing each one to the binding. It's going to be tight, but that's how you want your book, right?). I put something under the cover like a piece of foamy-foam or--better yet--my pincushion so I can get a nice jab going. (PS: Watch your fingers! Don't get too crazy with the stabbing)

4) Paper folding time. Fold your sheets in half (you can do 4 at a time, but not more than that; you'll lose the level of perfection I'm sure you want). Put 8 of the folded sheets together, so you'll have 3 booklets (I think they're called folios) (Not sure though. If I'm wrong, just pretend I'm right, okay?).
5) Then use your template to mark the hole placements on these and use that beastly needle to bore the holes through each folio. Take your time and make sure everything is precise.
6) Did you notice I stopped taking pictures? Yeah, sorry about that. Honestly, I'm surprised I took as many as I did.
7) Thread some of that DMC floss on your needle. You'll need three pieces, each about 18" long.
8) Line up your first folio on the spine (the cover), and attack it with the needle. Well, what I mean is, poke the needle through the spine in the middle hole, pushing it through the first folio in the middle hole too. (Make sure you hold on to the end of your thread!)
9) Then push that needle through the top hole, this time from the INSIDE of the book. You're halfway through the first folio! Woohoo!
10) Bring the needle in the bottom hole (your thread is still in the eye of the needle, of course) from the OUTSIDE of the book.
11) Last step: go back out the middle hole from the INSIDE of the book.
12) Now all you have to do is make sure you've drawn the thread NICE AND TIGHT and then tie it off (on the OUTSIDE) with a double knot.
13) Repeat this process with the second and third folio, but using the other holes you bored in the spine.
Now you're ready to finish off the bottle of wine---NO the book. The book. That's what I'm talking about.
14) Fold the edges of the book along the edge of the spine so it actually looks like it has a spine. Then, trim down to the spine along the folds. You'll have two tiny little strips of paper, one on each end of the book. It will look a lot like an antennae. Trim those puppies off, and fold the upper and lower excess of the cover down to cover the first page. This will keep those folios IN THEIR RIGHTFUL PLACE within the society of the book.
15) Line up the 3" strip of coordinating cardstock so that it is centered on the edge of the front binding. You'll want a few inches to the top and bottom and another inch overlapping the front. Apply glue to this strip with either a) reckless abandon or b) caution. I'll let you decide. Glue that sucker to the front cover and then fold the front edge in and the top and bottom edges in too.
(See? This is how the front cover will look. Those are the coordinating papers I was talking about.)
16) Finally, glue the 5" x 9" paper on the inside cover to conceal all your glue mistakes--uh, I mean--your folded papers. Try to get it nice and close to the spine. It will look like this.

Then, you can write something really cool inside. Like I did. And if you give this as a gift, make sure you sign it somewhere so everyone knows you're the artist.
So there we go! My first tutorial. Please let me know if this doesn't make sense or if you need clarification. And if you make a book of your own, send me a picture!