Thursday, January 26, 2012

So, Who Wants to be a Fabric Designer?

Custom Funky Door Fabric, Created Online in 3 minutes (don't remember where I got the photo)
Have you ever been searching for something on the Internet and wandered off on a tangent, which led you to another distraction, which led you to an exciting discovery?  I have no idea what I was originally looking for online this morning, but I stumbled onto an affordable resource for custom fabric printing, even in small quantities.  Starting at just $16.20 per yard, with discounts on orders of 20 yards or more, Spoonflower can unleash the inner fabric designer in all of us.  You can order as little as a fat quarter of your custom design on a quilting weight cotton, or you can order 15 yards of your design printed onto a cotton/silk fabric for drapery panels, or you can order a half yard of your custom fabric creation printed on organic cotton interlock for a pair of adorable toddler pajama bottoms; other fabric options are available as well.  Are you excited yet?

To create the fabric design shown above, all I did was upload a photo (regrettably, a photo that I copied from somewhere and plopped on my desktop weeks ago -- I have no idea where I got that turquoise door picture.  If anyone recognizes it, let me know!).  Once the picture uploads, you get a preview and you get to manipulate the way the design repeats.  I think I just did a half drop repeat.  I didn't crop the picture or mess with it in any way, because I have so many other things that I should be doing right now. 

I actually took pictures of quite a few interesting doors when I was in Paris last September, without having any idea what I was going to do with them.  How cool would it be to create custom fabric from each photo in fat quarter quantities for a special Doorways of Paris quilt? 

I can think of so many cool custom fabric ideas now that I've found this resource:

1. Your kids' artwork
2. Your kids' scary school photos
3. Product photography from manufacturer's web sites (for personal use only).  How cool would it be to tile a photo of your favorite gorgeous chair or chandelier?
4. Your business logo
5. Pictures of your dogs
6. Pictures of your annoyed, sleepy husband sticking his tongue out at you -- you know, the pictures you promised you had erased 

Tiffany Diamond Rings, images from Tiffany
I used images of "important" diamond rings from Tiffany ("important" seems to mean $600K and up) to create this virtual fabric.  There are links on the Spoonflower web site to information about how to prepare and manipulate your photography or artwork in a variety of software programs before using them for a custom fabric design, and I'm sure I could figure out how to change the background color, etc., but for now all I'm doing is uploading a photo and trying out different repeat options.  How fun would the Tiffany bling fabric be in a girly "Diamonds are a Girl's Best Friend" quilt?

Okay, back to work for me.  I've got laundry going on in the background, I haven't eaten lunch yet, and before I know it I'll be headed to pick up the boys and begin the Cruel Parental Homework Torture phase of my day.  Time flies when you're playing on the Internet instead of working, doesn't it?

Saturday, January 21, 2012

Mission Accomplished -- Mostly, Anyway

Lars's bedroom after 4+ hours of blood, sweat and tears
This transformation took me and Bernie over four miserable hours yesterday, working together while Lars freaked out alongside us.  My Lars is a little pack rat who wants to save absolutely everything, and he's very emotionally attached to all of his stuff so that it feels like he's personally under assault when we go in there and start going through everything.  However, it had gotten so bad that it was overwhelming to him and bringing order out of that chaos was way beyond his abilities, so it was time for some tough love.  I confiscated and disposed of a hoarde of hundreds of candy wrappers, amazed and grateful that they had not yet brought an infestation of pests to my home, while Lars wailed that they were a "valuable collection worth a lot of money."  We filled trash can after trash can with things like junk mail, empty boxes and toy packaging, scratch paper from last year's homework assignments, business card "souvenirs" from doctor's offices and dry cleaners, and even sticks (but it's a special stick!), and Lars desperately tried to pull things out of the trash cans as fast as we could put them in.  He screamed for us to get out of his room, stop touching his things, that we were ruining everything, we're idiots, he hates us, etc.  I knew I was in for this when we started, which is why I let his bedroom get so bad in the first place. 

I just kept repeating that "the way it was" wasn't working, and we needed to change his room a little if he wanted to keep his toys in there.  We ended up moving his bed about 6" to the left, just enough so I could fit the dark brown shelving unit between the bed and the desk.  The shelving unit was a temporary fix introduced over the summer and had been shoved in a corner where it didn't fit well, and it was formerly piled with junk on every shelf.  The two fabric covered storage boxes on the bottom have padded seat lids and used to be in the toy room, but they fit perfectly on the bottom shelf and they are filled with Transformers.  This shelving unit is the first thing I see from the doorway to Lars's room, so I wanted it to be neat and orderly.  The dogs can also reach the bottom two shelves, so I didn't put anything there that they could get into.

The oversize books on the next shelf were formerly housed in a wall-mounted book rack with the covers facing out that didn't take up a lot of physical space in the room, but that created a lot of visual clutter.  We got that book rack from Pottery Barn Kids when Lars was in preschool and it was great for all of the picture books we were reading at that time, but it was time for that piece to come out of the room.  I finally convinced Lars to put his Hogwarts Castle Lego set on the next shelf up (instead of on his bathroom floor, where he preferred to keep it), which was a major victory.  Loose Lego bricks and K'Nex pieces were separated from other toys and mixed together in a 15-gallon red plastic storage bin with rope handles (Lars enjoys combining Legos with K'Nex when he builds his own structures), and that bin was placed inside Lars's closet, away from curious puppy rabbits.  All of his various trading cards were collected in one of the storage baskets in one of his bed cubbies, every surface was dusted and vacuumed, and the bookshelves were reorganized so that they contain books only and not books plus everything else. 

Jubilation!  Lars loves me again!
The craziest thing about all of this is that, when it was time for bed time stories last night, Lars told me, "It's like I have a whole new room!  It's so much bigger!  I LIKE my new room!!"  I'm not completely finished with Lars's room yet.  I didn't go through the storage cupboards on either side of his bed, and he still has a motley mixture of trash and treasures piled on shelves in his closet that need attention.  I have some additional oil paintings and framed artwork that I need to arrange on the wall above the furniture, and I need to come up with that Lego tarp ASAP so that all my hard work isn't destroyed the first time he sits down to play.  Then there's Anders' bedroom to contend with, which isn't nearly as bad as Lars's was (and won't be as draining emotionally to deal with, because Anders won't be screaming at me the whole time).  But we started with the hardest part first, so all the work that lies ahead will be a cake walk by comparison.

The Lego Store, Concord, NC
Lastly, lest you admire me too heartily, let me tell you where I'm taking my children this afternoon.  We're going to the Lego store at the Concord Mills Mall, so that Lars can spend the Lego gift certificate he got from my parents and they can both spend some allowance money.  They each also have several little gift-with-purchase boxes from my holiday shopping that they get to fill with loose Lego bricks of their choosing, free of charge.  I know; I must be stark, raving mad to bring MORE Legos into my home after what we went through yesterday -- but earning allowance money is only an incentive if they are allowed to spend it sometimes, and this once-a-month shopping excursion to spend allowance money has been on the calendar for weeks.  Someday soon they will be teenagers, and this Lego Era will just be a memory, like Thomas the Train, Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles, and super hero dress-up costumes.  Legos are just thorns on the rose of childhood, and I wouldn't trade this time away for the world.

Friday, January 20, 2012

Mission Impossible: Finding a Functional, Attractive Solution for the Lego Landfill

The Lego Landfill Formerly Known as Lars's Bedroom

It doesn't look as bad in these pictures as it does in real life.  There must be at least ten thousand Lego blocks strewn across the floors, over every horizontal surface, piled in closets, and mixed in with other toys in the storage bins and clothing drawers of Lars's and Anders' bedrooms.   The desks that were intended for homework and drawing are completely unusable, and I have to navigate a Lego minefield just to change the bed sheets or to collect dirty laundry from their hampers. 

I used to have a "no toys in the bedrooms" rule, but as the boys started building more complex Lego sets they wanted to keep completed structures on display in their rooms.  This turned out to be a slippery slope, and before we knew it the chaos of the third floor toy room had spread down the stairs and taken over the boys' bedrooms as well.  If the toy room was too messy to play in, they'd just cart more toys down to their bedrooms and play there instead.  Finally, about six months ago, Bernie and I made good on our long-standing threat to invade the third floor play room and reclaim it as an exercise room.   We weeded out and donated toys the boys had outgrown and no longer played with, but several oversize bins of Legos, Transformers, and other toys were carried down to the boys' bedrooms to be dealt with "later."

The Culprits at Play in Anders' Room, Trying to Look Innocent
Well folks, "later" is happening this weekend!  School is closed for a Teacher Workday today, so we have three days to reorganize these rooms and devise a solution that is acceptable to all parties: functional for the little Brick Master wannabes, attractive, safe, and easy to maintain.  Our dogs can't even go in Lars's room anymore -- there's nowhere for them to lay down, and Otto brazenly pilfers Legos and Pokémon cards from Lars's room right in front of everyone.  Anders' room looks a little better at the moment, but that's because everything was randomly stashed in drawers and bins.  As soon as they start playing in there, they have to dump everything out in order to find the right bricks for the projects they want to build.

Don't get me wrong -- I have nothing against Legos.  The 1000+ piece sets are challenging and time consuming to build, and both boys also enjoy creating their own structures, incorporating concepts they've learned from their Lego design books and from experience building sets.  The problem is that my kids like to have lots of room to work, so a desk or even a special Lego play table is too small for a workspace.  They like to dump the Legos on the floor so they can see all their pieces and sort through them as they are building.  And they like to build complex structures over a period of days or weeks, so there are always several partially completed structures in progress in the middle of the floor, surrounded by hundreds of loose Lego bricks and parts.  I've scoured the Internet for Lego solutions and, although I found some great ideas for younger children or for those with a much smaller number of Legos, I haven't seen anything that can accommodate the way my kids play with Legos.  I also found complex Lego organization systems devised by adult Lego afficionados, where bricks are sorted by both shape and color in a myriad of little drawers, but even if I summoned up the energy to sort through my kids' Legos to that degree there is no way my kids would be able to maintain that kind of system over time.  These boys are still struggling to organize their homework assignments in their school planners, after all.  What we really need is a Hogwarts-style Room of Requirement addition to the house where we can throw all the toys to be hidden from sight until they are needed again:

Room of Requirement set from Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows Part 2, photo courtesy of Architectural Digest

Okay, back to the real world!  Here's my plan:  First we need to adjust furniture placement, especially Lars's room, to maximize open floor space in the center of each room.  Next, it's time to go through the drawers, shelving units, and existing bins again to cull broken and outgrown toys, and group like items together to assess how much of everything they have -- books, Legos, other toys, trading cards, etc.  Then I can devise appropriate storage for each category.  For Legos, I'm going to try to implement a fabric play tarp with handles on the corners that the boys will need to spread out on the floor at the beginning of a building session.  That way, when they are finished for the day, they can move their structure-in-progress up to a shelf, gather up the tarp from the corners, and dump the loose Lego bricks back into a big storage bin in a matter of minutes. 

Wish me luck! 

Saturday, January 7, 2012

We Survived Lars's Sleepover Party!

Anders, Peter, Lars and Drew Feasting on Gluten-Free Cupcakes
Lars's birthday is always a drawn-out affair.  His actual birthday is the day after Christmas, which is never a good day to throw a party, so I always aim for the first weekend after school resumes to ensure a good turnout.  Lars opted for a sleepover party this year, which was a first for us.  So we had a total of six little boys "sleeping" (hah!) at my house last night for Lars's 11th birthday party.  Lars invited three of his classmates, and Anders invited one of his best buddies as well.  Other parents had braced me with battle stories of sleepover parties gone by, but all things considered, I think our night went pretty well.

Sam, Anurag and Anders

Wonder Woman favors for 5th grade boys?  I don't think so...
Yesterday morning when I said I had to go to the party store to take care of goody bags, Bernie surprised me by announcing that he had already taken care of that.  Umm, Love -- you do know those are Wonder Woman treat boxes, don't you?  Bernie said, "What?  No they aren't!  Those are just stars!"  I pointed out the Wonder Woman crown and he was all, "They won't even notice."  Hmmm...  I decided to invoke my Queen of the Universe Veto Powers on this one.   I got Pokémon balloons and party favors instead, and added glow sticks and rock star temporary tattoos along with the leftover Halloween candy that went into each box.

Mom to the Rescue!

Someday, my son owes me a huge thank you for this, don't you think?  If we're ever in a life-or-death situation where Lars can only save one parent, I'm totally going to bring up the Wonder Woman party favors.  ;-)

The boys played a lot of Playstation and Nintendo DS games, stopping only for pizza and cupcakes.  On the advice of moms who'd been in the sleepover trenches before me, I confiscated electronic devices at 11 PM and enforced a lights-out policy at midnight.  I had the four fifth grade boys sleeping downstairs in the living room, away from the toys in Lars's bedroom, and away from the two third graders, who slept in Anders' bedroom. 

"The Tell-Tale Heart," illustration by Harry Clarke
I offered to read a bedtime story to the 5th grade boys and was delighted when they took me up on it.  I read them The Tell-Tale Heart by Edgar Allan Poe, the one where the narrator is recounting how he killed an old man, dismembered him, and concealed the body under the floor boards of his room just because he didn't like the way his eyeball looked.  It turned out to be a good pick -- none of the boys had heard or read the story before, it was suitably scary in the semi-darkness, and a couple of their vocabulary words from school were in the story.  I told them they would definitely run into that story in school again someday, and they'll think, "Hey, that's the one Lars's mom read to us!"

At about 12:30 I told them they could continue whispering as long as I couldn't hear them from upstairs, and when the boisterous boy energy still had not subsided by one o'clock in the morning, I called downstairs, "Boys, you need to start discussing which one of you should be the first to leave."  I was thinking they could vote on which child got relocated to another room like on the Survivor television series, but I think they misunderstood and thought I was threatening to actually send someone HOME because they quieted down immediately and I didn't hear another peep for the rest of the night.  Bernie heard something around 2:30 in the morning, though, and when he snuck downstairs he caught Lars with my iPhone, entertaining his friends with YouTube videos.  I was not pleased about this, and I'll be changing my iPhone password today.

This morning we had pancakes, waffles, and scones, and even coaxed a few parents inside to sit down and have coffee with us when they came to collect their children, which was nice.  It's a good group of boys, and we enjoyed getting to know them all a little better.

Now that Lars's birthday is behind me, the holiday season finally feels over.  I usually like to leave my Christmas decorations up until Epiphany, but since we decorated a week early this year I'm tired of looking at Christmas trees already.  The rest of this weekend will be spent undecorating the house, doing laundry, and cleaning up the clutter that accumulated over the holidays and getting reorganized and back to normal.  But first, I need a NAP!

Wednesday, January 4, 2012

Drunken Dragons Progress Report: Four Rows Assembled, Eleven More to Go!

First Four Rows of Blocks Assembled
Oh yes, in between all the baking and Christmasing and gifting and champagne drinking, I have been making slow but steady progress on Lars's Drunken Dragons quilt.  If you missed the earlier posts on this project, you can catch up by clicking here.  I'm trying to sew up one row of blocks one day, then seam that row to the adjacent row on the following day.  That's how 30 minutes a day times lots (and lots) of days eventually will result in a new quilt for Lars's bed.

Puppy Rabbits Sleeping in my Studio
Don't you just love how my one-year-old Rottweiler puppies, Otto and Lulu, crash on the floor of my studio to keep me company?  I love it when they snore.  When they pass what I've heard affectionately referred to as "Rotten Gas," well, I don't love that so much, but I keep a scented candle in my studio in case of emergencies.  ;-)

Back to the quilt!

Nested seam allowances, pinned on either side of the seams
I wanted to show you how I'm matching up and pinning my seam allowances as I assemble the blocks.  As I made each block, I pressed the curved seam allowance towards whichever fabric was darker to prevent a dark seam allowance from showing through a lighter fabric from the right side of the finished quilt.  So now as I'm sewing the blocks together, sometimes I get lucky and I have seam allowances pressed in opposite directions so I can nest them together like you see in this photo -- but other times, the seam allowances have to stack up on top of one another and there's a much greater likelihood that the seams won't match up perfectly. 

...Resulting in Perfectly Aligned Seams!
I'm trying not to be too obsessive about making everything perfect on this quilt.  I always try to do the best I can, because things worth doing are worth doing well.  Also, you get better faster when you always do your best work.  However, I know that Lars is going to chew on the top edge of the quilt when he's falling asleep, because that's just what he does.  And I know that I want to work on my free-motion quilting skills with this quilt, and if I obsess and rip out stitches and resew each seam until the quilt top can withstand the scrutiny of a magnifying glass, then it will be that much harder to get up the nerve to lower the feed dogs and subject this quilt to my free-motion learning curve.

Not Perfect, but Good Enough!
Here, see?  These seams are slightly misaligned, and I declare that they are going to stay that way because they are Good Enough!

Tomorrow is going to be a busy day, with Chess Club for the boys before school and a meeting with a new client for me in the afternoon.  Then Friday is Lars's birthday sleepover party (his birthday is December 26th, but we wait until after the holidays have passed for his party with his friends).  I anticipate that no one will get any sleep at my house on Friday night, and I'm already planning to put a movie on for our boys on Saturday afternoon so we can have a nap once the guests have gone home.  Wish me luck!

Sunday, January 1, 2012

Happy New Year 2012! Cheers, Hugs, Movies and Champagne Bubbles Headed Your Way

Happy 2012, Everyone!  No, this isn't the one where I recap the adventures, successes, and missed opportunities of 2011.  This isn't the one where I stand up on the Internet and publicly declare my ill-fated resolutions (that one might come later this week...  or not at all...  we'll see). 

This IS the one where I count my blessings and share the highlights of our quiet New Year's Eve celebration, home as usual, with our kids. 

One day, I might like to go to a black tie New Year's Eve party in a fabulous, glittery gown, having forced Bernie into a dashing tuxedo against his will, and I shall sip champagne and be devastatingly elegant into the wee hours of the morning.  For now, though, we like to stay home for New Year's Eve and watch movies.

Jeremy Sumpter as Peter Pan, 2003
We watched the 2003 Peter Pan movie with the boys, and loved every minute of it.  How did I miss this film when it first came out?  This Peter Pan is faithful to the original 1904 play and 1911 story by J. M. Barrie, and the film conveys much of the Victorian cultural and historical context out of which the Peter Pan stories were written as well.  This was definitely a film that kept our entire family enthralled from beginning to end.

We wrapped up Peter Pan at ten o'clock, and I decided that was late enough for little boys to stay up on New Year's Eve.  We tucked them into bed and I annoyed them by singing bedtime songs in French, Italian, German, Latin, and finally, when Anders begged me to stop singing in foreign languages, I couldn't help myself -- I sang Rachmaninoff's Vocalise (a song without any words at all).  Don't be too impressed -- I didn't claim to have sung it well!  I believe the hounds joined in with my howling towards the end...

Natalie Portman and Ashton Kutcher in No Strings Attached, 2011
After torturing my children musically, my husband and I cracked open the champagne and settled down to a recent romantic comedy, No Strings Attached starring Ashton Kutcher and Natalie Portman.  It was pretty cute as far as these fluffy-feel-good-romantic-comedy flicks go.  Funnier moments included Kutcher's character, Adam, presenting his girl with a bouquet of carrots on their date after she forbade him to get her flowers.  We were enjoying our movie and our bubbly so much that we lost track of the time and realized, at the end of the movie, that we were half an hour late ringing in the new year.  I hope this is not a portent foretelling that I will be late to everything important all year long!  Oh wait, that was last year...

Happy New Year, Everyone!