23 July, 2011

The Woes of Summer

Yes, the summer season is all about the joys of eating watermelon, swimming every day, and vacation from school.  But at our house unfortunately those come along with the woes of summer . . .

bug bites and crazy heat!

Bug bites are the bane of my existence in the summer.  My children learned to count into the double digits by counting their insect bites, I get huge, red, ridiculously itchy welts every time I am bitten, and our family can see the mosquitoes hovering outside our home's windows, just waiting to get in and bite us.  Truly, they hover out there in wait.  Ugh!

So, here's what we do to deal with this "woe of summer."

As soon as we realize a pesky bug has sunk her teeth into us, we run for the kitchen.  There we grab the bottle of meat tenderizer.  Yes, you read that correctly . . . meat tenderizer!  It contain papaya enzyme which dissolves the proteins mosquitoes leave behind when they chomp on you! Seriously, it works like a charm - if you put it on within about half an hour of getting the bite.

So, when I or my children get a bite here's what we do:

  • Run like Junie B. Jones (that is speedy quick) to the kitchen, and grab the meat tenderizer
  • Sprinkle some into our hands
  • Mix the powdered meat tenderizer with water until it makes a medium to thick paste
  • Rub the paste liberally to the bite and if it seriously itches, we have been known to sing this little ditty as we rub:

Well, there was a little chigger
And he wasn't any bigger
Than the wee small head of a pin,
But the bump that he raises
Just itches like the blazes
And that's where the rub comes in

Oh the rub
Oh the rub
That is where the rub comes in
'Cause the bump that he raises
Just itches like the blazes
And that's where the rub comes in!

(to the tune of Polly Wolly Doodle)

Leave the paste on as long as possible.  Eventually it will dry out and rub off, but hopefully by then, the bite will have been "tenderized."  That is, the proteins will have been dissolved, and the bite will be nothing more than a tiny red bump that does not itch!  Or at least not even close to as much as it would have otherwise.  

And when you are sweltering, sweaty, and generally miserable from crazy summer heat, you can try this little pick-me-up.

Lavender mist

Take that unused plant mister - because surely your plants are outdoors in the summer anyway - and turn it into a people mister!  Fill it with fresh water and about 3 drops of pure lavender oil. Put the mister in a shady spot in your house or better still, in the refrigerator!  Spritz yourself and/or your children liberally whenever the urge strikes you.  It is very refreshing!  


What's your favorite way of beating the "woes of Summer?"

05 July, 2011

Wet Felting with a Salad Spinner!

On a recent hiking trip to Ireland, my friends and I decided it would be fun to leave our mark in a few places along the way.  We created temporary art, cairns, using beautiful stones we found along the Dingle Way.  We liked the idea that someone might come along one day after we had left, and notice them. They were great fun to create, especially since we found such beautifully colored stones!

We wanted to bring some stones with us as souvenirs, so we could create cairns at home too.  However, the stones were heavy and packing them up in our suitcases seemed a vastly impractical idea.  Once I arrived home, I consoled myself by making some stones (and a cairn) for my friend Sharon. Of course, I used my favorite material, felt!  I did this using the wet felt technique and  . . . a salad spinner!  Yep, a salad spinner!

Here's how I did it:

First I chose the wool, in the colors of the stones we had seen in Ireland. I rolled the wool into a ball, using side to side and up and down winding motions.  (For some stones, I used multiple colors of wool.)

Then I stuffed the ball into some of my daughter's old ballet tights.  
(I think thinner stockings might have worked even better, but I used what I had handy.)

I knotted the stockings with slip knots so they would be easy to untie at the end of the felting process.

I filled up the salad spinner about 1/3 to 1/2 full with hot 
water and about 2 tablespoons of liquid dish soap . . . 

and dropped in the stones

I put the top onto the spinner and pulled away.  I discovered I had to pull pretty hard to get the spinner to work.  If yours is too difficult to pull, empty some of the water until it is a bit easier.  Lots of water and suds will sop out of the top of the spinner, and you may need to add some hot water and more soap about half way through your spinning time.  I spun the stones for between 10 and 15 minutes.

After removing the stockings, I rinsed them with cold water, and wrung them out.  I took the stones out of the stockings, rinsed them in cold water, and squeezed them out with a clean, dry dish towel.  

I have to say, I think the stones turned out very well!  Don't you?

After they dried overnight, I sewed the stones together in a cairn formation.  The stack is a little wobbly as it doesn't have much weight, but it is much lighter than bringing a cairn home from Ireland!

Happy wet felting, and Slainte!

04 July, 2011

My Five Stages of Designing and Creating

Little Red Riding Hood characters

I am not an artist.

I do work towards becoming one, all the time.  I create, I am inspired, and okay, maybe what I create is art -  sometimes.  I do not however, have innate artistic talent. Therefore creating something I like, can use, or that I would consider giving away or someday maybe even selling, is a bit of a process. How do I do it?  It takes a few steps.

The Idea 

Ideas of specific items I could use in the classroom or with my own children, come to me all the time.  When I am able, I write the ideas down.  I use whatever is handy when I think of the idea be it post-its, napkins, my hand, or whatever! The trick of course, is finding those pieces of paper later.  : )


This is the "Google" and picture book stage of the process.  I google the name of something I am trying to create, and see if someone else has created anything like it.  If someone has, great!  I can look at her design, and see if it is something on which I can build.  (Please note: If I borrow ideas from another person's designs in order to create my own, I do not sell that item!  For example, this past Spring I was teaching my class about the life and works of Claude Monet.  One afternoon during this time period, I was visiting Etsy and looking at the work of one of my favorite artists on Etsy, Mamakopp.  I saw and simply fell in love with one of her designs for a little man called Crinkleroot.  I thought he would make a perfect model for Claude Monet.  I borrowed her design and created a little wooden figure of Monet to go along with a wooden bridge and felted pond with lily pads.  I used this only for my own classroom.  You can read about it and see pictures on one of my earlier blog postings, here.)  If I don't find anything similar to my idea using Google and sometimes even if I do,  I also look at children's book illustrations.  There are so many amazing children's book illustrators that provide me with fabulous inspiration!


After the idea and the research have percolated for a while, I move to the scribble stage.  This is the stage during which a "real" artist could work on design.  I scribble as I work on the design, and try to figure out how to make an image that looks at least somewhat like the idea in my head.

Case in point:  A friend asked me recently to create a set of wooden figures depicting the story of Adam and Eve.  I am still in the scribble stage, even after cutting out some first drafts.  My figure drawings have this habit of leaning the same way as my politics - precipitously to the left!  I had to throw my first Adam away.  He looked like he was fighting a very strong gale, but I didn't realize it until after I had cut him out (of wood!)  Sometimes I have to draw half a person, fold the paper in half, and then cut it out - to make sure the person is symmetrical and not too liberal (lol, left leaning) for his own good.

Below:  My Scribble stage of dragon creation

Final design

I'd like to say that once I have scribbled sufficiently, I always come up with the final design.  The truth of the matter is that sometimes designs still need quite a bit of tweaking.  Sometimes I have to work through all the steps of making a piece, and let the final project "speak to me" before I decide if it works.  I know this is sort of ridiculous, but it is the only way I have found that works for me.  A piece has to look like I made it (if that makes sense), for me to be really happy with it.

Acceptance and Use

Once I have deemed the final product useful and "looking like me" enough, I have my Consumer Product Safety Testers (my children) check it out.  If it meets with their approval, I photograph it (for archival purposes and of course the ol' blog), and put it out in the classroom.  Finally!

And the sometimes necessary Sixth Stage:  Revisiting

Of course, sometimes later I come up with a better idea, and so then I have to start the process all over again.  Ah well, such is the life of a teacher and "wannabe" artist.

What is your favorite classroom material you have made?