Wednesday, October 22, 2014

Love for Grandpa

We all know I'm an overly nostalgic person, but I've been feeling particularly connected to my grandpas lately. Last week, our kids' school celebrated their first annual Country Fair. (It was awesome.) Our PTA president, myself and many other parents from our school are also alums and we opted to bring back the Country Fair theme (to replace the Medieval Faire, because really, what about the Medieval time period screams "children's fair"?), but also because the Country Fair was the theme of our youth. Again with the nostalgia. The fair was great; a lot of work, but also a lot of fun. I was in charge of game booths. It was a great job for me and a crummy job for me. I loved deciding on the games, naming them, creating them and working with our co-chairs on the layout. But I despise nagging people to work their one-hour shifts. Yuck. Yuck. Yuck. As the fair got closer, I was more and more unhappy with the job, so I decided to do a little something for myself, and this is what I came up with:

Sorry those pictures aren't great. For some reason it never occurred to me to take a picture of them. I know. Duh.

The whole process got me thinking a lot about my grandpas. My dad's dad, Grandpa Bill, was a sign maker by profession. He created the stencils which would be used to paint a sign on, say, the side of a truck, for example. And he was a calligrapher and lover of all things hand-made. In his retirement, he perfected calligraphy, jewelry making, painting, copper on enamel plates (some of which are hanging in my dining room to the left of me as I write), gold leaf and furniture restoration, just to name a few. From him I inherited my love of all things hand-made and a love for the process of creating something with my own two hands, as well as the appreciation for things made by others. I especially learned a love for creative, beautiful lettering. I wish I had a fraction of the talent he had and hope that some day I will have the time to practice and focus more on the art. I also inherited from Grandpa Bill a desire for perfection, which is something I fight against every day! :) This project was meant to look "unperfect" so it was great for me!

Thinking about Grandpa Bill also got me thinking about my Grandpa Joe, my mom's dad, whom I knew much better. From Grandpa Joe I inherited my love for sports, particularly baseball. He was a wonderful athlete, who would be so proud to see his grandson (who bears his name) finally excelling at sports and really learning to love the game. We also share a love for Boston, his hometown, which we never visited together. I hope that my own parents have the chance to share their hometowns with their grandchildren. What better way to learn their history and stories. And my gramps loved to tell a story. From him I learned the joy of hearing and telling a great story (sometimes over and over to the same people). We love to make people smile. And the man cried. A lot. Nostalgic, loving, sentimental, just like his granddaughter. And stubborn as all hell. Yeah, we share that, too.

I'm missing my grandpas terribly lately. How I wish my Grandpa Bill could see that, though I never perfected the art of calligraphy, for nothing I do is ever perfect, I have grown to love the process, and find great joy and peace in the craft. I never see a hand painted sign which doesn't make me think of him. I wonder what he'd think about Pinterest and etsy. In a day and age of quick and cheap and plastic and free shipping, would he appreciate online resources for a reconnection to the past? If he were a generation younger, would he have his tech-savvy son helping him set up his own etsy shop? I wish I'd paid more attention in those calligraphy lessons, lived closer so he could have taught me cloisonné. Taken a trip to Vermont with him to admire the gold leaf signs. And my Grandpa Joe I miss every day. I wear my Boston Red Sox hat for him and wish we could have enjoyed a game at Fenway together just once. He never got to see Zachary play "real" baseball, but I know nothing would make him happier than playing catch with him just one more time. I wonder what he'd think about watching Annalise and Juliette dance. I can hear him laughing and cussing and maybe even doing a little imitation just to get a laugh. But I know he'd be proud of them, too, even proud that his granddaughters are great athletes, too. (He was slow to come around to the idea of girls playing sports... not one of his best traits!!)  I'd love to hear his ridiculous stories just one more time, even the ones I've heard a hundred times, seeing his blue eyes fill with tears. I wish I had another chance to meet both of them again. In my old age, I've realized just how much I learned from each of them. I wish I'd learned that sooner.

On to the signs...

So I stole a pallet. Well, I didn't exactly steal. I asked permission first, then parked illegally, and shoved that puppy into the back of my van. It was much bulkier than I thought and I was glad I'd talked a friend into helping me shove it in. And then Jason took it apart, which really was not a pretty process. At all. Perhaps we should have looked at the online tutorials on how to take apart a pallet first. Anyway, we got it apart and Jason cut 24 pieces, of varying lengths for me. No pictures of this part. Like I said, not so pretty.

Then I painted the pieces poorly. The idea was to make it look like the signs were old, so using a pallet was perfect, as was painting them quickly and sloppily. This was so super easy and fast! (Which was necessary, since this was all done two days before the fair.) I used regular pre-mixed house paint from the hardware store... No time to be picky about colors, though I did add some gray to the blue, as it was a little darker than what I wanted. Here are some of the painted pieces.

You can see how the pallet was perfect for this because it made each piece a little more interesting.

While they were drying, I went to my computer. I wrote out each name I wanted on the signs in Word and then I selected which font I wanted to use for each. This way I could be somewhat brainless about painting and just copy the different fonts. I downloaded a few new fonts for the process (which I love to do anyway). is one of my favorite places to look for fonts. Then once the base paint was dry (top and bottom and all sides, since I knew they'd be seen from every direction) I started to paint. I made eight signs in each color, used white paint to write on the blue and red signs and either blue or red for the white signs. Here was my first sign:

It's one of my favorites, too. I love the hole in the sign. The font for this one was American Typewriter and I used just a cheapo paintbrush that I got at the hardware store for all the lettering. Nothing fancy, just copying the computer! Here's a close up of some of the white on red signs:

See how imperfect they are? It doesn't matter. The impact of all of the signs together was the important part. And the imperfection was a clear reminder that things used to be hand-made. Here they are all together. (Again, sorry for the quality of the pictures. Thank goodness for iPhones, though!)

If you look closely, you see all the imperfections, but as a whole, I think they went with the tone and feel of a small town Americana Country Fair.

To hang them, we next bought two 2 inch (I think!) square long pieces of wood. I banged them up a bit with both sides of my hammer, and then painted them poorly with white paint. We installed them with zip ties to other poles either on the playground or the large rented "town square" tent. My husband pre-drilled holes in each sign approximately in the middle of each one so we could easily install in place with screws. The signs more or less pointed in the direction of the various games.  Here they are again:

A little piece of Americana, twenty minutes from downtown LA, in our own small town USA.

I hope a little bit of nostalgia maybe will bring you some joy as it brought to me!

Tuesday, August 12, 2014

A Big Kid Kind of Day!

Six years ago, Annalise started kindergarten. At the time, I was pregnant with Juliette. It seems so hard to believe, but today that kindergartner started sixth grade. And that unknown baby, merely a bump in my belly, is now a kindergartner.

This morning I packed three lunches (well, actually only two lunches and one snack), filled three water bottles, double checked three backpacks, braided two heads of hair (no braids for Zachary!), spread sunscreen on three noses, and sprayed three heads with lice spray. I did not load up a stroller with school supplies (all the big stuff -- packets of printer paper, Clorox wipes, Kleenex) because I don't own a stroller anymore. But our big wagon was full and we dragged that thing down the hill. We had to leave extra early so that we could have time to drop kids off in three different classrooms. Excited, and not even too tired or hot (We did go to Magic Mountain yesterday and it is August 12th!!! The humanity!), they smiled for pictures in front of their classrooms, hugged friends and said goodbye.

I knew this day would come. In some ways I looked forward to it. I even remember thinking when Annalise started how in six years I would get time to myself every day! Six years!!! That seemed like a whole lifetime! I wasn't sure I'd make it to six years! That was double Annalise's age! And yet, here it is. I did make it. I will (OK, in theory!) have time to myself every day. And I'm not really sure I want it. Yes, it will be great to be able to exercise every day. Go to coffee with a friend. Go to Target by myself. Work on the house a little bit. (That's as far as my brain can stretch right now. What am I going to do?) My house is quiet right now. Too quiet. I miss my little munchkin and her constant chatter.

My kids are getting bigger. The crib and high chair are long gone. The stroller, packed away in Grandma's attic. The rocking horse has a new home with my nephew in San Francisco. Tomorrow I will pack up the preschool shirts and tote bags  and drop them off for an excited three year old who will start at St. George's on Tuesday. The transition has been slow and subtle, but there's no mistaking it now: this is a big kid house. We have braces and swim caps and soccer balls and ballet shoes and protractors. We listen to Macklemore and Maroon 5 and not to Baby Mozart or Beethoven's Wig. We watch Goonies and Back to the Future. Four fifths of us have read Harry Potter. And I am one of those veteran moms at the kindergarten yard who, six years ago, really looked like she had her shit together. Those moms who were comfortable sitting at the PTA meeting. Who knew the other moms at the gate. Who knew where to go. I remember thinking, "In six years, I'll be one of them. One of the old moms!" I'm one of them now. Only I don't feel old and I definitely don't feel like I have my shit together. I'm the same mommy who came home and cried, just like I did six years ago. Just like I did three years ago. The only difference is this time I walked up the hill alone. No stroller. No tiny hand in mine.

Tomorrow I will take a yoga class. Yoga!!! And be thrilled that I have the opportunity to do so. Tomorrow we will start up our morning dance parties again and I will be SO happy that we aren't dancing to The Wheels on the Bus! Tomorrow I will have an uninterrupted conversation with a friend! But this morning, I will take the time to miss my little ones. All three of them. And I will mourn the fact that my babies are growing up. And tomorrow I'll celebrate!

Gotta go... Time to go pick up that big girl! Can't wait to hold her hand while we walk up the hill and she tells me all about her big day!

Monday, March 24, 2014

Open Letter to My Daughter's Teacher Who Doesn't Understand Why I'm Nervous About Her Flying Across the Country with Her Class

Dear Mr. H,

Before we get started, think of yourself and the control freak that you are. Soak that in. Own it. Don't try and deny it.

OK, you got that? Now imagine that, control freak that you are, you have a child.

Imagine wanting something so much and then for some reason you can't explain, God gives that thing to you. A baby. For some reason the universe has trusted you to carry a baby. (I know this is a stretch; work with me here.) And for the next nine months your only role, the only thing that matters, is to keep that thing alive. And you do.  And you're in the hospital and you're like "Yes!! I totally did that! I made that kid out of thin air and here she is in the world!"

And then they let you take her home. And you're like, "No, seriously, people, I don't know what the f*&% I'm doing here. Don't make me leave!! WHY ARE THEY LETTING US TAKE HER HOME??? DON'T THEY KNOW WE ARE MORONS???" But they do. They make you take that baby home.

And then you get that baby home and you look at her and think, "I can't even keep a plant alive. I'm not to be trusted with a goldfish. I give this kid a month at best." And yet somehow, you make it through that first month. And then another. And another. Purely on the power of milk from your own breast. (Again, work with me here. Use your imagination.) And then you're like, "Dude! I kept this thing alive ALL BY MYSELF!!" And you do a little bit of fist pumping, because this is by far the biggest thing you've ever done.

But you're not done yet. That kid keeps growing. And growing. And she starts doing things. Chewing on things (other than your breast); rolling over; babbling; crawling; walking; talking; analyzing shirt sleeves. (OK, maybe your kid wouldn't do that , but my toddler was super obsessed with spaghetti straps and cap sleeves. But she's kinda freaky like that.)

And she's so much like you. She looks like you. She laughs like you. She's sensitive like you. And you think, "Wow! She's just like me. A mini me!"

And then you realize she isn't just like you. You realize your spouse is in there, too, and maybe some distant relative or maybe something that is uniquely her. And then comes the hardest part for us control freaks... YOU HAVE TO LET HER BE HER! She's not you. She's her own unique person with her own unique qualities and hopes and talents and fears. And, as a parent, it's your job to let that all come through. To let her be the person she's meant to be.

And so you learn to let go a bit. You take her to preschool. You drop her off for playdates. You let her take trips with her grandparents. You let her walk by herself to school.

And you still teach her everything you know.

And then one day you'll realize she can do things you CAN'T do. She knows about cells and the American Revolution and things you probably knew at one time but don't anymore. And she can run a mile in seven minutes (which you're pretty sure you never could do). And she can do a pirouette. And a double pirouette. And a triple. (And you know you have to use spell check to even write the word pirouette, much less know how to do it yourself.)

And this is the joy of being a parent: knowing that you could have control-freaked that kid into being someone just like you, but letting go enough to let her become who she is meant to be. You'll still be in there: in her looks, in her snarky sense of humor; in the way she writes. But she will also be completely her own person. And this is not only ok; it's beautiful.

But, my fellow control freak, it's not easy. It takes a lot of faith in the world. Faith in her teachers. Faith in the people in your neighborhood who drive too fast. Faith that kidnappers stay the f*&% away. Faith in her. Faith in God. Faith in the universe.

And this week, it takes every ounce of faith I have to let that child get on a plane without me, and let her travel all the way across the country in a metal tube. Let her sleep in a dorm room with only one other fifth grader. Let her travel by bus over snowy roads. And travel back home to me in another metal tube. And faith that my heart won't break from missing her so much.

But I DO have faith in her. Faith in the universe, faith in God, faith in the tube, faith in the bus driver and faith in you. I know you will look after my baby and keep her safe. I know you will. But this isn't easy for me. And I think if you looked at this trip through my eyes and saw all the things which are out of my control and even out of your control, you'd understand why I'm, you know, a teensy bit anxious. Why I've sent too many emails. Asked too many questions.

That's my baby up there in that tube with you right now. My flesh and blood, who grew in my belly and nursed at my breast. Who has a great laugh and a kick-ass grand jete. Keep her safe and bring her back to me Friday a little wiser, a little funnier and full of awesome stories to tell. I can't wait to see her again.

And thank you. You'll never know how grateful I am.

With Love,

Friday, October 18, 2013

Holiday Chalkboards

Last year my friend Amber hosted the holiday luncheon for our school's teachers and staff at her beautiful home.  We had a really fun, creative committee and my friend Jenny of Bloom Designs ( chose a fitting chalkboard theme for the party.  (Check out Jenny's website.  She's amazingly creative and inspired!)  Jenny brought me these cute vintage chalkboards for me to make our signs for the party.  To make the signs, I first typed up the words on the computer and messed around with the fonts until I found ones I liked.  This helps me with the layout, the different fonts and centering things.  It makes it a lot easier than just free-forming it.  I love doing things like this.  My grandfather was a sign maker by profession and, later in life, a calligrapher.  I felt like a piece of him was with me while I was making these signs.  And, even though they aren't perfect (his would have been!), I felt like he would have been proud.  

So in case you're already looking ahead to Christmas, here you are...

This one went above our coffee bar.

This one greeted our guests.

It wasn't.  It was in the 80's.  Not cold at all.

It was a joyous day, despite all sorts of debacles.  It turned out beautifully.

This one is my favorite.  It was displayed over the dessert table.

We've yet to decide the theme for this year's holiday party.  Maybe looking at these again will get me inspired!

Wednesday, October 16, 2013

Thanksgiving Placecards

Last year or maybe even (actually probably) the year before that we made these for Thanksgiving.  This is how super on time I am with putting stuff on the blog.  Super on time, like I am with everything.  Tomorrow is the Great Shake Out, where all schools in California practice a major earthquake, with after shocks, injuries, staff fatalities, etc.  Our school needs parent volunteers to come to school tomorrow after the "earthquake" and act hysterical, demand kids whose emergency forms they aren't on, leave their cars running in the middle of the street, etc.  Act like a hysterical parent?  Sign me up!  How fun!  What assignment do I get?  The parent who comes late.  Seriously.  That's not fun, that's real life.  I was typecast.  So unfair.

Anyway, I digress.  It's fall, so I thought I'd show these little cuties we made for Thanksgiving some year.  Who knows which one?

I got this idea from somewhere.  Certainly I'm not running on enough brain cells right now to think of something like this on my own.  Maybe we credit Martha Stewart just in case.

These were really simple.  We have tons of liquid amber trees in our town, which drop these little spiky balls.  We went on a walk and the kids collected tons of these.

Apparently we needed a ton because these babies do not like to sit up straight.  Lazy little bastards.  The rest of this is pretty easy.  I made little flags out of card stock.  I just free-formed them because I wanted them to each be a little different.  Then I punched a hole in each flag and wrote the names on each one.  I used a thin, orange grosgrain ribbon for the ties.  I cut them short enough to just tie them once.

The last step was to just tie each one around the little buggers that were the most agreeable.  The tying was a bit tricky.  I tied them mostly all the way and then slid them down the stem and tightened the knot.  This way I was able to get the names to stay right where I wanted it on the stem.  We laid/sat/rested them right on the plates on our Thanksgiving table.  And done!  Happy Thanksgiving!

Dodger Love

My beloved Dodgers are in the playoffs this year.  It's not looking good for them.  They are down three games to one and the Cardinals look good.  Real good.  My mom always told us we aren't allowed to pray for sports because "sports aren't that important."  And she's right; in the grand scheme of things, sports aren't important.  So why is it that all over Los Angeles right now people are lighting candles, saying prayers, wearing rally caps and lucky shoes and growing beards, all in the hope that the Dodgers will stay alive?  Why is it that a Dodger win feels so important?  Why are we so desperate to keep the season going?

Sports bring us together.  A large, diverse city like Los Angeles is united right now.  Everywhere I go I see Dodger shirts and blue everywhere.  Random strangers will ask each other the score when they hear a radio on or pass someone walking with earphones in.  People in bars hug people they've never met and cheer and talk and hug with people as if they have known each other their whole lives.  In sports stadiums, people of all races and ethnicities, religions and beliefs and socioeconomic status sit side by side.  (I'm not lying here... in Dodger stadium you can still get tickets as cheap as $5 a seat.  That's because we're awesome.)  I've heard that the only other place people are brought together like this is in church.  (And of course there probably most people aren't of different religions; just kind of by virtue of the fact that it's church.  Except for those really supportive spouses like my own.)

In our own family, sports, and particularly the Dodgers, are definitely bringing us together.  My mom and dad share season tickets with a few other couples.  They have four seats, so they bring other couples with them or they bring Jason or me or the kids.  The kids go a lot!  It's been a great way for the kids to bond with their grandparents.  All season long we talked about the games.  And it's not just with my immediate family.  If the Dodgers are playing the Phillies, I text my cousin in New Jersey and brag about how awesome the Dodgers are.  It keeps us connected.  Watching the Red Sox on TV reminds me of my grandpa (a lifelong Red Sox fan) and it reminds me to contact my cousins in Boston.    Right now we are dreaming of a Red Sox-Dodgers World Series.

Through the past couple weeks, our family has sent emails, phone calls and even texts.  My mom has only sent about four text messages in her life.  (Her first was sent from Target, where she brought Juliette to spend her $10 gift certificate.  The text?  "I'm in Barbie hell."  That has to be the best first text ever.  Ever.)  But last night, as she was sitting at the game with my dad, my mom was texting.  The last one read, "Getting desperate."  My brothers live in San Francisco and Italy.  And to be connected to them every day is rare.  To be connected to my brothers every day, sometimes several times a day, is amazing.  I feel bad for my sister-in-law in Italy who has to put up with my brother up at weird hours, his constant cussing and yelling and superstitions.  But for me, it's great to feel like we are all sharing something together.  I feel like we are on the same team, in the same room, like we were when we were kids.

So I am hoping, if not praying, for the Dodgers' season to keep going.  It may seem silly and unimportant, but sports keep us connected.  And that's important.  And maybe even worth a few prayers.

Thursday, October 10, 2013

Halloween Mantle

It’s fall!  Well, at least my calendar tells me it is.  It’s sunny and beautiful outside, but it is over 90 degrees as I write this.  So not really feeling super fall-like here in Southern California.  All the same, Halloween is a few short weeks away and it was time to bust out the decorations.  I finally retired the rainbow wreath from the front door.  It’ll make a resurrection in the spring.  I’m hoping to make a new fall wreath for the front door, but for now there’s a thrift store “Happy Halloween” wreath.  

Here’s what our family room fireplace looks like right now:

(a little more close up)

I made the sign last year when I hosted a Stella & Dot trunk show in the weeks before Halloween.  Since Halloween is such an over-the-top holiday, I like to keep it pretty simple… the only additions are a ribbon on the vase stand, orange flowers (Trader Joe’s), fake pumpkins (thrift store), real pumpkins (Trader Joe's and the kids' Harvest Festival at their school and the sign.

The copper pot which holds the pumpkins resides permanently on this weird  totally unfunctional bench-thing next to our fireplace.  It's not a lid there that you can lift to store stuff and you can't sit on it without hitting your head.  It mostly serves as a hard place in which to bump your shin if you round the corner too tightly.  So when my friend gave me this antique copper washing basin and laundry stir-er I knew the perfect spot for it!  It is not entirely filled with pumpkins.  I cheated and loaded pillows in the bottom and filled the top with pumpkins.  I think it looks beautiful filled with pumpkins!

Sorry I don’t have pictures of me making the sign, but it was so simple.  First, I decided how big I wanted each piece of burlap to be.  To do this, I first had to measure my mantle and decide approximately how much of a dip I wanted the twine to make.  Our mantle is quite long, so our twine is cut to about 6 ½ feet long.  (Full disclosure, I’m a math tutor, but I don’t trust myself, so I actually cut the twine longer just in case.)  Then I had to divide the length of twine the amount of letters.  (78 inches divided by 14 equals 5.6.)  I decided on about 5 inches across to leave room for spaces and at either end for hanging.

Then, to cut burlap in a straight line, (wish I had a picture for this), find the line where you want to cut, then pull the string at that line.  Pull, pull, pull until you have pulled that string out all the way across your length of burlap.  Then cut along that line.  This will give you a nice, even length for your letters.  These are a little more than 5 ½ inches long.  Then I measured them and cut the widths.  These are approximately five inches wide, though they vary.  (See below.)

Next, I typed on the computer what I wanted the sign to say.  Then I chose the font.  For this, I chose “American Typewriter”.  To write each letter, I enlarged the letters so that each letter was quite large.  Then I just used a black Sharpie to copy the letters.

Some of the letters weren’t quite centered in the square, so I trimmed the width on some of the letters.  Then I took my hole punch and punched two holes in each piece of burlap.  These are approximately an inch and a half in from each side and about an inch down from the top.

To thread the twine through, I folded the twine and pulled it through, starting with the middle letters on either side and ending with each end.  (In other words, I started with B and worked backward to Y and then O and worked forward until the L.)  Then I hung it with the very sophisticated Scotch tape on my mantle and covered the ends with my fake pumpkins.  Then I straightened out the letters and voila!  Happy Halloween!