Tuesday, February 28, 2006

sketches finished!

I finished the playground sketches a bit ahead of schedule.

Click the sketches to biggify them, if you're interested. (I tried Kim's cool picture-shrink-and-grow trick, but Blogger doesn't allow Javascript inside the blog entries. So sad. On the other hand, Blogger is still totally free.)

For those who know the area, this swingset is at Cove, on the edge of the beach in front of the Hunny Pot, where the path to the Bear Dock begins. The nose of the boat is pointing at the lake.

The sketches are full of smudges and are far from lovely. You can see, above, how many times I erased and moved the swing-set before I got it right. This particular piece of paper was the third attempt. I finally got disgusted and cut the nice boat out of my first drawing and glued it onto the third, rather than re-draw it again.

The project supervisor was initially disappointed with my sketches as well -- not because of the smudges and ghosts, but because I got a lot of important details wrong.

Sketching, as I said previously, is not my strong point. Whether due to lack of practice or lack of some essential skill, I lack that whatever-it-is that tells me whether to make THIS particular detail stand out, or THAT particular detail. I work in tiny pieces and don't have a clear grasp of the overall picture. I can't maintain a sense of scale or perspective very easily. That's even true when I have a still life in front of me to sketch. My weaknesses are magnified when I am drawing largely from imagination and memory.

...so what is all this self-flagellation doing in a blog about things that bring me joy?

Because despite their failings I enjoyed drawing these sketches. Despite the hair-pulling attempts to get perspective right, despite the smudgy ghosts of seventeen different possible locations for the swingset, I had fun. If I lived in a bigger community that had more and better artists around, I wouldn't even have had the opportunity to do this.

Not only that, doing the sketches helped me to understand how the playground will look, even if the swing-set is an A-frame instead of a square frame. Even if there isn't a huge pile of boulders next to the nose of the boat, or the wheelhouse is too far back and too skinny. Even if the path by the back of the boat won't have stairs like I drew.

I'm pleased that the project leader (as he even said after he got over his initial disappointment) can show this to his team and say "like this, only different." Because it's a start. It's something the team can point to and discuss: "what if we moved the cargo net over here?" or "what are we going to do there if we don't do stairs?" or "it doesn't look like there's room for monkey bars there."

However large our disappointment that I'm not a better artist (or a better listener!) we all still know on some level that these drawings really are better than the back-of-the-napkin doodles they were discussing before. It's humbling to give imperfect gifts, but after I get over my pride I realize that it's still good to give gifts, however imperfect.

It was also nice to have a mini-vacation from blogging and from a few other obligations that I cancelled in order to finish these drawings. Nice to have the vacation, and just as nice to be back 'home' as it were in my normal routine. Hello again, everyone!

Saturday, February 18, 2006

until March 1

once again, as seems to be my nature, I've overcommitted myself. By February 28, I have to complete at least two more sketches of the boat above and play equipment nearby, most of which currently exists only in the head my husband and one of his co-workers.

We'll need a top view and a view from the back, at the very least, so that we can make sure the whole playground construction team (and the volunteers coming in April) will be working on the same idea instead of playing the "I thought you said" game as they build.

I'm clearing my schedule of everything not strictly necessary, in order to work on these sketches with Daniel. Sketching doesn't come naturally to me - I can do it, but it takes awhile. But beggars can't be choosers, and the non-profit group could afford my modest fees ($0) if I could spare the time.

Sadly, but probably realistically, my family voted suppers and laundry as "strictly necessary" for the next few weeks. And that means something else has to go. Something like blogging.

So you'll have to wait until March for pictures of the tiny computers we made yesterday on our snow day (made out of Altoids Mint tins, what else?) ...or pictures of our riding lawnmower buried under three feet of snow, with only the seat exposed.

And harder yet, I'll have to wait until March to ramble on to the world at large about whatever our family is doing. And to keep up with the dozen or so blogs I read regularly.

But hopefully this blog-vacation will help in the creation of a nice boat-shaped beach playground (complete with slides and cargo net and gangplank!) for some vacationers and their children this summer.

And by this summer I will probably feel like that was well worth two weeks of not blogging.... especially since it's likely that, a few times a week, four of the children on the boat will be mine.

I'll be sure to post photos.

Thursday, February 16, 2006

sheets of icicle

these icicles are not today's. They are from about two weeks ago. Strange and beautiful icicles, muscular-looking. Flat wide ribbons of ice, coming off the roof as a horizontal ribbon and then morphing into a vertical one: half an inch wide, up to six inches deep, three and four feet long, touching our windows and dripping down them. Who knew icicles could have such variety? We waited until the kids were asleep to knock them down (the sheer weight of them made them dangerous to the roof as well as to passers by.)

No icicles at all today. Yesterday was clear and warm, and our icicles melted and fell off. Today we woke up cold, to clear skies. By the time the sun rose it was the only clear spot in the sky, and all the snow was turned pink and then golden by the strange morning light. I dashed out to get groceries. Now it's snowing steadily, a fine steady snow that looks almost like drizzle. The wind is blowing fitfully in two different directions. By tomorrow we're due to have about a foot of snow. We're guessing that means no school. Time to break out the cocoa and some new crafts.

We have up to six months of Winter here, depending on how you define winter. Sometimes that seems like way too much winter for anyone to endure.

But I'm starting to think winter days, and icicles, are like snowflakes: they're all cold, but no two of them are alike. And they are all, in their own ways, beautiful.

Tuesday, February 14, 2006

gratuitous photo of Bubbie

this is for my mom, who noticed right away that Bubbie was missing from the paperclip photos of my last post. The paperclip photos of him didn't turn out, but here he is doing one of his favorite winter activities: eating snow.

I wouldn't want a Grandma to not get her baby toddler fix. Regular posting will resume when we cease being sick.

Monday, February 13, 2006

paper clip jewelry

Saturday we all went sledding in town. Not my favorite activity. While I don't mind jumping out of airplanes at all, I am a wee bit scared of careening downhill on a sled. Go figure.

But that doesn't really matter. Guess what the big hit was this weekend? Not the sledding. Not the post-sledding cider and chocolate chip cookies. Not finishing our teeny-tiny school valentines (coming soon to a blog near you). Not Sunday's movie and popcorn.

Nope, the big hit was paperclip jewelry.

We got out our fancy paperclips from Staples and made bracelets and necklaces and rings and headbands.

BigE, true to his nature, used paperclips to investigate mathematical principles.

If you hang two blue paperclips off of one red one, and then two green paperclips off of each blue one, and then two pink paperclips off of each green one, you discover that...

well, you discover that you don't really want to spend time hooking on your sixteen yellow paperclips for the next row, nor even look for the thirty-two paperclips that would follow that.

But, as far as the jewelry goes: the nice thing about it is, I think, that you can't fail with it. Mama's bracelet doesn't look any nicer than yours. Or if it does, you can copy it exactly. No precision cutting, no measuring, no waiting for Mama's help. If you don't like it, you can undo it and re-do it.

As an added bonus, Mama gives all her most special-est creations right to you, instead of saying "first we need to make them for her friends, or for your teachers."

The paperclip party ended quickly, when Mac and Bubbie discovered how quickly they could wipe them off the table by sweeping their arms back and forth.

Chickie requested a photoshoot afterwards, and she had as much fun modelling and shooting as we had making the jewelry (and the math.)

BigE was reluctantly willing to participate in the photoshoot, provided we also took pictures of him as a monster. He's taking full advantage of the fact that he is now missing his front teeth.

Friday, February 10, 2006

anything but twice

There is a common misconception that twin babies are twice as much work, and twice as much fun, as one baby. Nothing could be farther from the truth.

There are times when they are half the work of a single baby. Times when Mac is able to make a grumpy Bubbie laugh in spite of himself. Times when Bubbie and Mac quietly entertain each other in the front room while I get the laundry done.

And there are also times when they are ten times the work of a single baby. Times when Bubbie teaches Mac to turn off a reading lamp, or Mac teaches Bubbie how to empty the kitchen cupboards and climb inside. Whereupon they fight for ownership of the cupboard.

I personally think two babies with twice as much time and creativity to learn things (which they immediately teach the other) means four times the work, at the very least.

There are also times when I'm changing Bubbie and Mac is screaming and pulling on my leg. Times when I lay a sleeping Mac down in his bed for a nap, and Bubbie (cranky, and next in line for a nap) reaches through the rails and squeezes Mac's toes or grabs his blanket.

Then there's the fun.

I just might be biased, but somehow two boys playing Peekaboo,

two boys watching Papa out the window,

two boys wearing Ottomatic costumes or two boys covered head to toe in cocoa,

are more than just twice as funny. I'm not quite sure of the math, but I know I've found myself laughing (sometimes out of delight, sometimes near hysteria) more than ever in my life.

Saturday, February 04, 2006

birthday emergency

As we were eating lunch yesterday, Chickie looked up at my Command Center (the door of the pantry where I keep my calendar and to-do list) and said, "what's that?"

"It's an invitation to Lucy's party."

"When's the party?"

"Uhhhh... tonight!"

So at 12:30 we had six and a half hours to come up with a present for the only daughter of friends of ours. No time to go shopping, even locally, what with naptime and my eldest due home from school at 3:00. What to do? The birthday girl and her parents live in a single-bedroom apartment, with the living room converted into a nursery; they have less space than we do. So we were pretty sure they didn't want any more stuffed animals, dolls, large rubber balls,...

Soap dough was my first thought: alas that I never got the recipe right. Thankfully before I started experimenting I remembered that they only have a shower, no tub. Soap dough creations wouldn't be half as much fun in a shower! What to do... what to do...

Coloring books! I remembered that once upon a time my mom and I had digitally converted a photo to its outlines. That would make a fun coloring page!

So while the babies laid waste to our house, I started experimenting with Photoshop. It took me a long time and many failed attempts with the logical choices of "sharpen edges" and "find edges" and "trace edges." All my 30-step conversions were thoroughly rejected by my test client, Chickie: "that doesn't look like Bubbie." "that's ugly." "no, it looks goofy."

at 3pm we finally hit on something that worked:

in a few short steps, the photo above became the coloring page below!

Here's a short tutorial for all you Photoshop* users:

*for anyone who wishes they could afford Photoshop: all you probably need (and all I have) is Photoshop Elements, which retails for $99 and can usually be found for less... Purplus Software currently has 4.0 for Windows for $44.50. Small Dog Electronics has 3.0 for Mac for $83 - or $65 if it's a qualified academic purchase (which includes homeschool at Adobe's discretion.)

(1) Set your foreground color (at the end of your toolbar) to black.
(2) From the 'Enhance' menu choose Adjust Lighting > Shadows and Highlights.
(3a) for most natural light photos** choose lighten shadows 50%, darken highlights 0%, midtone contrast about 20%.
(3b) for most flash photos** you don't need to change the lighting.
(4) if your picture has a lot of grain/noise, from the 'Filter' menu choose Noise > Despeckle.
(5) From the 'Filter' menu choose Sketch > Photocopy.
(6) adjust detail and darkness to where they look best to you (I usually used 1-2 detail and 10-25 darkness.)

**the key to nice-looking coloring pages is to play with the brightness, contrast and lighting. The high-contrast areas with lots of detail end up dark in the final drawing; the low-contrast areas end up looking white with a few speckles.

For the daisies shot above, I had to first brighten the image until all the detail was gone from the white daisy petals, then decrease the midtone contrast until the grass wasn't quite as 'noisy' as in the original, which made the outlines of the daisies really pop out. On the other hand, on the tree shot below I had to increase the brightness and contrast in order to show the details of bark and tree branches; otherwise the bottom third of the picture was largely white with a few black speckles.

Any of these coloring pages can be downloaded full-size for your own (or your child's) coloring pleasure -- or just to satisfy your curiosity. Just click on the image to get to the full size.

After I printed and stapled my masterpiece coloring book--at 5 pm, with frozen pizza in the oven for supper--I suddenly awoke to the fact that the recipient was celebrating her SECOND birthday. Just four months older than Mac and Bubbie, who have just now mastered the art of scribbling.

So I quickly made a second coloring book with Sharpie marker - big, bold pictures of cats, and cows, and pigs, and about 3000 babies. And because her mother understands the need to craft, I gave the two-year-old BOTH coloring books... with a promise that I'd also give Mom a CD with all the printable pages on it.

Thursday, February 02, 2006

why Chickie's closet is empty

Poor Chickie. Lovely brightly colored hangers, and nothing to hang on them.

It's because of a killer.

And a cow.

And about 3000 babies.

The 'killer' is Killer Sudoku. My dad sent us an article (sent to him from my brother-in-law) with a link to the new kind of Sudoku puzzle, where you have to figure out which numbers go in what boxes by what adds up to the total in each of the dark rectangles. BigE was reading over my shoulder, and it was love at first site. But he wanted an easier 4x4 version. So we did another sheet for his class... or rather for BigE and one other kid in the class, who are the only local first-graders interested in Sudoku. If you're interested, you can get the sheet here.

The cow and 3000 babies, as well as the papas and tractors, and pigs and assorted other doodles...

...are Mac and Bubbie's latest coloring phase. They no longer hop up to the table, grab a crayon and start scribbling like mad. Instead they hop up to the table, grab a crayon, and make their demands: Baby! baby! putt-putt! Moooooo! After I doodle their request, they happily color it in and demand another.

So the lovely tiny closet made out of a cereal box and toothpick, and the tiny paperclip hangers shown in the Tiny Treasures book, are laying idle on a shelf. This has not escaped Chickie's notice. Only I'm not sure what to put on the hangers without spending hours stitching teeny tiny garments... something I'm not as keen on as making tiny hangers. Maybe I'll try to make a raincoat out of a plastic grocery bag and Scotch tape. Or does anyone have any better quick ideas?

The beautiful translucent metallic paperclips, by the way, are available at Staples. One of the many perks of having a daughter who needs tiny paper clip hangers is getting to buy beautiful paper clips.