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The Last Mommy Crafty Thing I’ll Probably Ever Do


This is it.

The night before my youngest child’s last classroom Valentine’s Day party.

What with all the snow, and my high school kids’ Forensics meets and driver’s ed classes, I had almost forgotten I had signed up to make a “healthy” Valentine’s Day treat for the class.

In years past, February was a great time of the year to get crafty. I helped my kids make homemade Valentine’s Day Valentines cards, the works: doily lace, lots of stickers and red construction paper. We made animals and creatures out of pink and red pom poms or cut out construction paper hearts in varying sizes. One ambitious year, I taught my kids how to peel bucketfuls of broken crayons, break up the pieces, and press and iron them between pieces of waxed paper for irridesent heart-shaped window hangings. I was thick into the preschool years and read a lot of Martha Stewart Living, let’s just say.

No more.

So this is it. My last, Pinterest-get-the-attention-of-the-other-cliquey-classroom-mommies-worthy class project I will do for any of my children.

So I went all out. I actually found this cute Valentine’s Day snack idea on Pinterest.

I used our abundant supply of Duck Duct Tape – again a purchase made in hopes one of my children would sit down and do a craft with me like in the old days – to make the colorful body of the clothes pin butterfly. My son designed all the butterfly faces. Then I filled snack-sized zip-lock bags with colored Goldfish and Craisins. Viola! A crafty Valentine’s Day snack for all my son’s classmates.

While I worked on this in my dining room my oldest graced me with her presence to show me how she can become eligible for a scholarship drawing if she joined an online, virtual college fair. Before I could say, that’s great ambition, and maybe you want to look at Mason Gross School of the Arts at R-U-T —” she had cut me off and said “that’s all I have time for this conversation, mom, gotta go upstairs and work on my econ.” And she was gone.

So that’s it. The last crafty project I’ll do with my kids. The college application process, and all the stress that goes with it, beckons.  Maybe, and I really am planning on this, I’ll make that birth to senior year scrapbook before she heads to college. I have about 18 months to go.

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The Payoff of Pencil Shavings: The 2014 Scholastic Art and Writing Awards


Parents of athletes get to whoop and cheer from the sidelines of courts, fields and hockey arenas.

Score a basket, and parents go “YEAHHHHH!”

A kid slams a hockey puck past the goalie and parents get to yell “whooo hooo, GOAL!!”

I guess parents of artists need a place to cheer for their kids too. They found it last night at the Detroit Film Theater at the Detroit Institute of Arts, as hundreds of students in grades 7-12 received accolades at the 2014 Scholastic Art and Writing Awards Southeast Michigan Inductees ceremony.

The College for Creative Studies sponsors the Southeastern Michigan Art Region, which received over 4,000 works of art and almost 300 portfolios last year from 7-12 grade students in Wayne and Oakland Counties.  Over 1,100 individual category works and 90 Portfolios were selected to receive Gold Keys, Silver Keys and Honorable Mention Awards. Winners of this award are in the company of other great artists like Andy Warhol and Richard Avedon. They won these awards in high school too.

Artists, friends and family members and teachers filled the theater to nearly standing room capacity. That is a lot of art supporters. Before the ceremony began, a huge projection screen looped images of the award-winning art, from photography to painting, to drawing, ceramics and jewelry design.

And if parents, or other fans in the room were lucky to look up and spot their child’s work, a huge “YEAH” could be heard. Just like at a sporting event.

Looking at the art, I cannot understand how some school districts see it as a frivolous subject that can be cut from a budget.  Each work allowed the audience a glimpse of the world from inside another’s perspective. Think how many eyes have set sight on the world and still, there are so many unique ways of looking at the world around us, and to have the gift to express what they see and reflect it back to the rest of us, and to have schools that have maintained their budget for the arts, indeed a gift.

Again, I thought how fortunate we are to be able to live in a part of Michigan that values and has kept a strong visual art program. Again, my mind wandered to think about the districts which have shed the classes where students get to express themselves in their own unique way. Think of what they could express artistically if given the opportunity.

My daughter, in the throes of her Junior Year, at first could not be bothered with going to an award ceremony. After all, it was a Tuesday night at the beginning of the semester. She had hours of homework waiting for her. But we told her, no, getting recognized like this is what people LIVE for, and some things trump even doing homework.

When she was in Kindergarten, I took a book out the library about how to create art with pencils. It had different shading and cross-hatching techniques which I thought maybe a bit above her wee head, but I showed it to her anyway. We must have renewed that book three times. She sat with it and carefully copied the pictures for weeks.

Years and many boxes of pencils have passed. And with that, lots of pencil shavings. Some make it to the garbage, some don’t as evidenced by a mound of pencil shavings I recently found in the basement:


Competitions like the Scholastic Art & Writing program confirmed for my family what we’ve known for years: My daughter has been given a great talent to create art.

Attending the award ceremony confirmed there are lots of lots of kids with equal and greater talent also creating amazing art.

As each kid crossed the stage to accept their awards: some in conservative suits, others in the standard garb of an artist: black and more black with matching black combat boots, my heart soared with pride for them all.  At the same time, it sank, and I wondered if my daughter, seated in a sea of this talent, felt the same weight of the competition. It is these same kids who she will be competing for scholarships, grants, and jobs in an economy which values and employs those pursuing the arts less and less each year.

I hope the world of art and design widens enough to absorb all of them and lucratively so.

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Photo Challenge: Patterns

This week’s WordPress Photo Challenge is  Patterns.

Patterns are found in nature. And in turn, we foolish humans try to mimic the majesty of nature’s patterns in the man-made world. . I photographed two examples of patterns I found this year in Rochester, N.Y.

While one is a pattern only nature could create (well, maybe man helped it along with a bit of hybridization), one is a pattern created by man, or a woman, in hopes of preserving nature.

The first is a lilac. But these are not your ordinary lilacs.

This week is Rochester’s Lilac festival, an event that draws thousands to the area for music, great food, and of course, to inhale the fragrance from the city that can boast the nation’s largest collection of lilac bushes in Highland Park.

Photo Challenge: Patterns

While white lilacs are the most fragrant, photogenically, my mom and I like this striped variety the best. I give full credit to her photographic wizardry here. I also learned from the blog, eattheweeds,  that lilacs are from the edible olive family.  In addition to their intoxicating fragrance, lilac blossoms and seeds can be used in cooking and wine making.

The next photo is a pattern that struck my eye at Rochester’s Greentopia Festival, held every September. As much as I searched and searched on the Internet, I could not find a link to this artist/vendor, so if you know who makes these, leave me a comment and I will certainly give the artist a little link love:

Wallets made out of recycled and laminated magazine and newspaper print. A perfect accessory for the sustainability-minded mom!

Wallets made out of recycled and laminated magazine and newspaper print. A perfect accessory for the sustainability-minded mom!


Two Transplants embrace the Wabi-Sabi-ishness of Rochester in Gallery Opening

One grew up among the tea plantations of the Darjeeling region of India

The other grew up in the progressive urbanism of Austin, Texas. 

One was raised in Buddhist teachings. The other came to Buddhism in his teens.

One way or another, they found themselves in Rochester.

This Friday, come check out their shared venture in the Kuma-Gama Clay Studio and Tea Bar.

Over a glass of freshly brewed hibiscus iced tea, I had the opportunity to interview them both.

Here is their full story which I profiled them in the Democrat & Chronicle: 

Within Japanese culture is the aesthetic of Wabi-Sabi.

Rooted in Buddhism, this philosophy draws attention and appreciation to life’s everyday simplicities. It asks the follower to seek out beauty in unobvious places, such as the gnarled and twisted texture of a tree branch or the irregular jaggedness of a stone.

In many ways, Rochester is a Wabi-Sabi city, says potter Cody Kroll, making it the perfect place to create his imperfectly shaped sculpture and Japanese tea ware.

“Rochester is … not perfect, and it is unfinished,” says Kroll, an Austin, Texas, native. “That’s the way I make art, by always keeping in mind that nothing is perfect and nothing is permanent.”

Kroll was working out of a small studio in the Hungerford Building and selling his work on

While online, he met Niraj Lama, a native of the Darjeeling region of India, who was selling his Happy Earth Tea online. Lama is a newcomer to Rochester, and when the two realized they lived in the same city, they met in person and a business venture began.

They will open Kuma-Gama Clay Studio and Happy Earth Tea Bar in a larger space, Suite 228, in the Hungerford, 1115 Main St., during First Friday this week.

Kroll’s work will be on display, and Lama will provide a history of tea, as well as tastings.

Kroll’s interest in Japanese culture came early in his life. His grandfather was a Marine stationed in Japan and brought him some pottery. Kroll studied fine arts at Eastern Kentucky University and State University of New York at Buffalo. He has been influenced by 16th-century and modern Japanese glazing techniques from artists such as Kanzaki Shiho and Suzuki Tomio.

In the spartan space of the Kuma-Gama Clay Studio, light streams through industrial glass block windows onto whitewashed walls. From outside, one can hear the clank and whistle of a passing train on the railroad tracks behind the building. Cinderblocks support a shelving system of wooden boards that display Kroll’s creations.

On these shelves, the visitor shouldn’t go looking for a matching tea set of identical cups fashioned with traditional scenes.

In his own primitive “impressionistic” style, Kroll strives to capture the fleetingness of a single moment on the surface of his earth-toned works, sometimes in a glaze that seemed to be fired in a kiln while it was still dripping, sometimes in unglazed parts of a piece that capture his fingerprints.

Though each piece is a one-of-a-kind creation, when a few are assembled, they suggest an eclectic harmony and the ideal vessels for a formal Japanese tea ceremony or the enjoyment of a single cup of tea.

Kroll says because Japan is an island nation, each has its own distinct style and uses resources found nearby. So too does Kroll, who only uses locally dug clays, such as what is found at the bottom of the pond of the Folk Art Guild of Rochester in Middlesex, Yates County. The glazes Kroll uses are made from ash taken from wood-fired ovens of local restaurants.

Everything about Kuma-Gama Clay Studio takes sustainability into consideration. The Hungerford Building has been repurposed from an old fruit-packing plant to a place where local artists work and live. Tea is served from an old piece of furniture found outside the hallway in the studio. It was refurbished into a tea bar and adorned with polished tin ceiling tiles also found in the building.

When Kroll moved to Buffalo in the early 2000s to earn his master’s degree, he thought all of New York would resemble Manhattan. He says he has grown to appreciate Rochester’s artistic and cultural riches and its potential to grow as a creative hub.

“To me, Rochester is what Austin was 25 years ago — a nice, yet-to-be discovered city along a river. I actually like that Rochester is a little depressed,” says Kroll, referring to the Buddhist outlook of accepting the high and low phases of life and knowing that each will pass.

While Kroll’s art is based on appreciating imperfections, Lama’s craft in making the perfect cup of tea depends on the precision of timing, water temperature and the cut of leaf.

Growing up in the foothills of the Himalayas, covered with tea plantations, Lama was raised in a culture of tea. In the country that is the world’s biggest consumer of the beverage, tea was part of everyday life. Though Lama worked as a journalist in India, the tea import business keeps him connected to his homeland.

“Tea nourishes the soul. It takes some time and patience to calm down to enjoy the subtleties of the flavors of tea. While coffee delivers that jolt to get you through the day, tea offers the drinker a tranquil alertness,” Lama says.

Together, Kroll and Lama hope to foster a “tea society” at the studio, where tea lovers and those simply curious about tea can learn about tea ceremony traditions and the art of making the beverage.

Kroll and Lama see the repurposing of the Hungerford Building as symbolic to the revitalization of Rochester. Just as Lama’s tea is a symbol of welcoming hospitality in his culture, so it has been with the “open, welcoming” nature of the people he has met in Rochester since moving here with his wife and two small children just 18 months ago.

“Rochester to me as an outsider has been a very gentle, welcoming place,” Lama says

October in New York: East Hill Farm/Folk Art Guild Open House

Last Sunday morning, though I could have slept in, I woke up early. I woke up my family too. I told them we were about to take a trip into the country. No, we weren’t going through a corn Maze.No, there would be no pumpkin catapult contests. But I promised them, they would enjoy it. They were going to have a good time. Because I SAID SO!

Life has been way too hectic lately. I feel like I have barely seen my three children since late June. It seems like no sooner did my older son and daughter return from sleep-away camp and I washed all their laundry, the summer ended and so began the school grind. Homework and tests.  Track meets and band practice.

But last Sunday morning, we had this glorious sunny perfect day. And we had no school and no work. I just wanted one chore-free day of me not nagging anyone spent out in the country. One day of me not badgering anyone to stop texting friends while I am talking to them or stop playing games on the computer.

So off we went.

The ride along Canandaigua Lake had the whole family, plus a friend of my son’s, singing along to “American Pie” on the radio and marveling at the colors of the trees that dotted the hills

as we whizzed past withering cornfields.

To reach our destination: the East Hill  Community Supported Agriculture (CSA) Farm and Folk Art Guild in beautiful, Middlesex, NY. There, we got a chance to see where our vegetables were grown all summer.

East Hill Farm is a project of the Rochester Folk Art Guild, a nonprofit organization and community of craftspeople and farmers. Since 1967, they have grown food and produced handmade practical folk art on a 350 acre farm. East Hill Farm uses old fashioned, chemical-free, hands-on organic methods to grow fruit, vegetables, herbs, eggs, pigs, and chickens for the community and for sale through our CSA and markets.

For the past 20 weeks, our family took part in a great experiment of owning a CSA share. Each Friday since mid-May we were presented with a portion of vegetables, fruit, herbs and flowers organically and lovingly grown by a group of young entrepreneurial farmers.   Whether it was spring’s excessive rains or July’s excessive heat, we shared in the farmers’ risky dance with Mother Nature.

The farm had limited cell phone service so we got a chance to sample the simpler, slower style of life. We actually got a chance to catch up, share and talk as a family. How many times are family members distracted from each other by screens: laptops, DS games, cell phones, iPods?

Well, on this day in October my teen-aged daughter actually sat and talked to me.  She sat and reminisced with me about the first time she used  a pottters wheel this summer at camp as we watched a master potter throw and mold a clay jar before our eyes:

How many toys, clothing, dishes do we buy that are made of cheaply made mass-produced?

At East Hill Farm, in the woodworking shop, bare-footed craftsmen showed off their lathes.

And my kids played with real wooden toys.

Made in the USA.

Then, in the weaver’s studio, my son got to try his hand at a loom, using wool that was dyed by an apprentice, the same young woman who brings us our week’s worth of vegetables. Thank you, East Hill Farm farmers. It’s been a great summer.

Fall Leaves: Rake Many, Turn a Few into a Turkey

By now, in Western New York, the fall foliage has long reached its peak of yellows and reds.


Now, when I look up at the massive sugar maples in my neighborhood (the ones that are covered with snow in my homepage picture),  sadly the branches are mostly bare. The only color they will be covered with over the next four months or so, is white.

Wherever you are living now, I bet you are thinking: how to get rid of all the leaves? Rake them? Mulch them? Sick the leaf blower on them?

But before you rake, blow, or mow every last leaf away and before the snows fall, admire the carpets of red and yellow that lie at your feet.

Then, save a few of nature’s castoffs for craft supplies that can last the whole winter through. Here’s how:

  • First, find a preschooler to help you with this task. They are low to the ground and can teach you how to appreciate the simple, beautiful perfection that is found in one leaf that is the color of fire.
  • Then, show that preschooler a telephone book. Theirs will probably the last generation that will actually come in contact with one of these volumes of bound, thin yellow paper volumes. None of them I bet ever had a parent use them as a makeshift booster seat or a stepstool. Show them that these yellow or white clunky books were once used by people to look up numbers for plumbers or dog groomers but now come in handy for pressing leaves.
  • Next take a few of your leafy treasures and pat them dry with a paper towel, and place them between the pages of the book.
  • While the leaves are drying and pressing, read to them a wonderful book like Leaf Man, by Lois Ehlert to get inspiration as to what to do with all those pressed leaves. 

Our preschool class used leaves to represent the feathers of turkeys in our thanksgiving cards, like this:

Fall leaves are abundant - and free - and make for great crafts like this turkey

Send me your comments and pictures about what you made with your leaves.

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