Monday, October 31, 2011

zombie piñata

One year it suddenly happens: instead of making cute scarecrows and smiling jack o'lanterns, you find yourself creating a zombie piñata for Halloween. It happens because you have always thought that beating a sweet little animal figurine until it splits open is brutal and barbaric, and because your child is obsessed with zombies to the point of revising his zombie attack plan every few weeks.

You live in a rural neighborhood without much trick-or-treating to speak of and like to take something to the in-town Halloween festivities when you the idea of the zombie piñata begins to take shape. Your child can play out his zombie defense strategy while also having fun with his friends. No animals will be harmed, only an undead creature who means to suck out your brains, anyway.

Your first try in conventional papier mache looks more like an insect than a face and must be abandoned.
Then you remember a package of craft plaster wrap, the kind used for maskmaking and find a hapless victim willing husband and make a mask of his face after carefully laying down some plastic wrap.
Your model falls asleep, and his open mouth provides the zombie with the perfect roaring facial expression.
Plaster wrap turns out to be the perfect medium for impulsive last-minute ideas like this, drying as it does in under half an hour instead of the days that papier mache require. In short order, the head is filled out using a balloon and some inflatable packing filler from the garage.
Painting is the fun part. There is a base coat of white, a grey-toned flesh wash, and of course, the requisite purple bruises and red blood.
In the paint box is a squeeze tube of glow-in-the-dark puff paint, and this is added to make eyeballs and lips.
You never thought you would have fun making something this horrible and grotesque. But it's so much fun, it dominates your weekend. You even forget to make food for yourself and your family.

Clothing from the abandoned scarecrow is added, and the head is filled with candy and glow-sticks.
The pièce de résistance: a sound chip connected to a tilt switch, which responds to gravitational position. When the zombie is swung, he will roar:

Sunday, October 23, 2011

piano lessons

Last night was our monthly potluck with families we have become close to through homeschooling. Many of these kids are now in school, but we all still enjoy each other's company and so gather regularly for communal meals.

As dinner was ending, with parents talking around the table and kids playing in another room, one of the moms very quietly noticed: "...he's memorized it…" Her son was playing a piece on the piano, fluidly and with great musicality.

She then told us that at one point she had called the piano teacher to say her son no longer wanted to continue with lessons as he felt burdened by the need to practice and memorize pieces.

The teacher had responded by saying, in effect, that he didn't need to do these things—it was enough that he come to lessons each week. She then asked to be able to talk with the child directly, so that they could come to "an agreement."

After the next lesson, the son returned and said that he and his teacher now had an agreement: he was no longer obliged to practice, and he would no longer need to memorize pieces. He had already opted out of recitals, because he didn't like to perform. His only part in the agreement was to go to the lesson each week.

And that is when things turned around. Piano became fun, and once it was fun, he found himself wanting to practice. At the dinner, the mom realized he had somehow memorized the piece he had been practicing.

He was also playing before a small audience of friends: performing.

Friday, October 21, 2011

monterey bay aquarium

The reason we go to Monterey each year is for Homeschool Day. The aquarium generously sets aside several Mondays each fall to allow homeschooling families free entry. This is a huge, huge gift and we have used it for nine years now.

This year our time was shortened by C's evening midterm, which meant we could only stop by our favorite exhibits before starting the drive home.
sardines in Open Sea
rockfish in the Kelp Forest
purple-striped jellyfish
moon jellies
sea turtle
white-spotted rose anemone in Rocky Shore
The aquarium is built over the site of the old Hovden sardine cannery and retains a few boilers, along with an exhibit explaining Doc Ricketts' contribution to the fields of marine biology and tidal ecology.
Just outside of the aquarium is Cannery Row, made famous in Steinbeck's novel of the same name. If you look up, you'll see that the trinket shop is actually the original model for Lee Chong's general store.
Science, history and literature: I love how the Monterey Bay Aquarium integrates it all. This was likely our last year to attend Homeschool Aquarium Day, but we still plan to come and visit whenever we can.

P.S. My friend Jen and her family have been longtime traveling companions to Monterey, and she also went down again this year. Please read her take on the aquarium sea horses at her blog post here.

Thursday, October 20, 2011

a day in carmel

"If you should look for this place after a handful of lifetimes:

Perhaps of my planted forest a few
May stand yet..."
                      ~"Tor House," Robinson Jeffers

Robinson Jeffers Hawk Tower, Tor House, Carmel...Image via Wikipedia
Hawk Tower at Tor House, Carmel, California
Our annual trip to Monterey changes up a little every year. This year we spent a full day in nearby Carmel, precipitated by the fact that S was now 12 and could finally join a tour of Tor House. Tor House is poet Robinson Jeffers' handbuilt home on a cliff overlooking the Pacific. We have been waiting years to be able to do this and were not disappointed. Unfortunately, cameras (and even handbags) are not allowed on the tour, so I only have a few outside shots to share.
It's quite amazing to think of Jeffers writing all morning in his Hawk Tower, a place S deemed "Harry Potter-ish" for its turrets and hidden staircase, then spending the remainder of the day hauling and setting huge pieces of granite as he extended the house from one tiny cottage to a walled compound with multiple additions. He also planted over 2000 trees (alluded to in the poem above) along the property's edges. This was a busy man.

The grounds also incorporate pool table slate, ship ballast, and discarded marble from a remodeled bank; as well as old statuary, a portion of the Great Wall of China, and other exotica from the Jeffers' and their friends' travels. These occasional insets of random material give the house a sense of surprise and wonder on top of its gorgeous natural beauty and cozy simplicity.

More surprises can be found in the town of Carmel itself, where Hugh Comstock's twee little cottages are sprinkled throughout the downtown neighborhoods. In fact, many of Carmel's homes are similarly designed to be quaint and original (and...expensive).
We ended the day walking around Point Lobos, home to Monterey Cyprus trees and orange algae.
I'd miscalculated my knitting time on this trip and stopped by a yarn shop thinking I could start a new project. The store's ball winder was broken, so this did not happen; but I couldn't resist a skein of custom-dyed yarn the owner had commissioned to reflect the colors of the beach.
Why don't all local yarn shops do this? I'm thinking the colors here would be tomato red along with other agricultural colors like green, gold and deep brown. What are the dye colors of your area?

Thursday, October 13, 2011

star quilt: 7 months later

The center is quilted! C has been watching, asking, encouraging the process. He's very happy to see it taking shape. It occurred to me that he has never not known me to have this quilt or its predecessor in an unfinished state.

Free motion quilting is still new to me, so the quilting is...well, I tell myself that it's meant to match the wild imperfection of the star pattern. And I learned as I went: how to adjust the height of the foot to better skim the quilt using a hair band, how to bend the straight pin coming out of the foot to make better contact with screw that holds the needle in, and how to add some shrink tubing to dampen the sound once that contact is made.

For the outer borders, I decided to quilt from the back, following some matching stars in the print. The next step is flipping it over, repinning from the backing, and removing the pins from the top. Then we'll take another run and be ready to bind.
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