What I Did On My Christmas Vacation

* I cooked a lot of food. Really, a lot. We joked my Italian was showing. We had my husband’s family here for Christmas Eve dinner and it was really, really nice. I’d hoped we could make that happen, since we won’t all be living in the same state by next Christmas. Then I cooked more just for us five on Christmas Day–my first roast beef! It was fabulous, just like I remembered from childhood. For some reason, even though I rarely eat red meat, I was craving roast beef with gravy, so I checked the Internet and talked to my butcher and made one. Yum.

* I read and read and read. I can’t even tell you much of what, because I don’t keep track of titles. I thought it might be nice to keep a list this year, but it’s January 2nd as I type this and I’ve already finished two books and begun a third this year and I suspect I will get tired of writing down titles by the end of the month, if not sooner.

Double Wave mitts at amyhoodarts.com

* I knit a pair of mitts from my own design, sewed my daughter a pair of leggings (successfully–and I have fabric to make more), and sewed myself a jersey knit thermal shirt. I took this picture and then noticed the streaky bathroom mirror. It’s clean now.

sewn jersey shirt at amyhoodarts.com

* I moved all my Art Together zines from e-junkie to Payhip, which is taking care of VAT. I also decided upon a topic for the next issue. I hadn’t started working on a winter issue yet, not knowing whether it would even be possible to sell it. So it will probably be a late winter or even spring issue, but I have an idea I’m excited about, and that’s the first, most important step. Anyway, I’m really glad an option materialized that would work for me to continue selling it without having to deal with other countries’ confusing tax laws. (My own country’s confusing tax laws are bad enough.)

* I chose ADVENTURE as my word for 2015. I want to view this move to a new state as an adventure for all of us!

* I began Lisa Sonora’s 30-Day Journal Project. Mmmm, we’ll see. I’ve found I’m not so good at doing one thing daily for any amount of time. I like to do rather a lot of creative-type things (plus all that reading), and I typically do at least something creative every day but not the same thing. So we’ll see.

* We spent a lot of time at home, happily. Reading, making things, watching movies, playing games–the boys are both very into Magic and Minecraft.

I hope you’re having a gentle entry into 2015. I’m not looking forward to returning to the regular schedule on Monday. I’ve so enjoyed our slow and easy mornings!

Some Thoughts on Selling

A few things have lately got me thinking seriously about trying to sell items online and in person. First, the new EU VAT rule changes that affect anyone who sells digital items online. It’s been hashed and explained and talked about elsewhere; the end result is that I’m ceasing selling the Art Together e-zine as of tomorrow until I decide if it’s feasible to do it in a way that doesn’t run afoul of the EU laws. Yes, I agree—how and why would they enforce it in the US and for so little? But I also know it’s absolutely possible to track down anything on the internet and it’s not worth it. (It’s not worth it; I’ve been thinking that a lot lately.)

Then, a couple of days ago, I received a confusing two-page sales tax reconciliation form from the state. I have a license to make sales. It costs $10 and is necessary even to sell at a craft fair. I also applied for, and received, an artist exemption for the sale of certain works. Everything I sell falls under the exemption as I applied for it, so I don’t actually owe sales tax. But I have to send in the paperwork quarterly anyway, and now I need to run this form by an accountant because I’m afraid I’m going to screw something up. I have to list everything I sold in the state, and where, and when, and how much of that itemized list falls under my exemption, along with supplies I purchased, and lots of other things I’m not even sure of. I sold less than $200 worth of items at two craft fairs. At the second one, I didn’t even sell enough to cover the application fee (we’ll call that a learning experience). I’m looking at this form, thinking, It’s not worth it.

I get paid a little bit for writing the Home/School/Life column. I earned some money teaching this past year, some from the zine, some from sales of handmade products. I sold more physical items at craft fairs and through a local shop than I do on Etsy, but I make more profit on Etsy sales. Either way, though, everything added up amounts to no more than what my mother used to call “pin money.” It covers the cost of this site, of using e-junkie to sell the zine, of fees and supplies (mostly, as I also used lots of what I already had). The profit is minimal, laughable almost, but it covers some homeschool supplies, and every now and then I can use my PayPal balance to buy something for myself rather than charging it. Best of all, I can use that money to buy my husband birthday and Christmas gifts, rather than putting them onto our shared credit card, which he pays for. The money I earn isn’t necessary to my family’s economic health (thank goodness, because we’d be in trouble). But it’s done great things for my own sense of self. To be clear: we have always considered the family finances a joint venture, and that didn’t end when I ceased to draw a paycheck over a decade ago. His name is on the check, but the money is ours. Making a little on my own isn’t because I had no economic say-so without it. It’s because I have my own skills and talents and passions and no way or desire, right now, to manage a full time job. It’s about doing a little on the side, something I enjoy anyway, and earning a little, and the way that can positively affect a primarily stay-at-home-parent’s sense of self-worth.

But increasingly I’m feeling like it’s just not worth the regulatory BS, not for this amount of money. I’d need to invest the time and energy to create an actual business with a real, worthwhile profit, and I don’t want to do that at this point in my life. So I’m not quite sure what I’ll ultimately do. I don’t know what opportunities might be available to me once we move (please, universe, send us a buyer so I can stop living in limbo). But I think it’s a sad thing, that it’s this difficult to navigate. I really like interacting with people who, for whatever reason, take a chance on something I’ve created, whether it be the zine or something handmade. I received the nicest Etsy review a few weeks ago, from someone who bought an embroidered chicken pouch for his wife. I love the emails I get from parents who are so happy to have Art Together as a resource. Something more than pin money is taken away when people like me feel it’s not worth it because of regulatory headaches. That’s what I think.

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A Second Dress (Better Than the First?)

Ladybug dress at amyhoodarts.com

The second dress is complete, y’all. And it’s better than the first, because it has inside, hidden pockets.

pockets! at amyhoodarts.com

G likes it better because she likes short sleeves–while I’m wearing a thermal shirt, sweater, and wool socks, she’s running around in short sleeves and no socks at all. I’m happy about the pockets but already know I can do better on the next dress, whenever that happens. (I’m out of jersey knit fabric at the moment.) I keep admiring these dresses, the way the sleeves are sewn into the opening so well, the pleating, the way I did much better hemming the sleeves on the ladybug dress and they don’t flare at all. Another headband was requested, so I whipped that up after these pictures were taken.

twirling at amyhoodarts.com

New play dresses need twirling pictures. Of course!

Leveling Up: Sewn Knit Dress

At the end of the summer, my daughter picked out some Charley Harper knit fabric so I could make her some dresses. I’d seen the Anna Maria Horner Lemon Drop pattern and for some reason, that was the pattern that made me decide to figure out sewing with knits. I ordered it and made the top for myself first (I’d rather mess up learn on my own clothes than my daughter’s) and the shoulders were huge. I mean, just, humongous. I looked at the pictures on the pattern again and Googled for some finished examples and compared the girls’ pattern pieces to some of my daughter’s clothing and realized that using the Charley Harper fabric to make this pattern for her would be throwing good money after bad.

I discussed with the Twitter brain trust and ended up ordering the Oliver + S family pack of t-shirt patterns, with the idea of adjusting it to make a dress. (The shoulders on this are actually designed to fit regular people, even!) I shortened the t-shirt and added a skirt, which is just two rectangles, each the width of the full circumference of the shirt. And we have a dress, just perfect for a six-year-old.

Charley Harper dress at amyhoodarts.com

The full skirt twirls nicely, too.

amyhoodarts.com

I made her a matching headband from scraps because why not? I added patch pockets to this one, using the pattern pieces from the AMH pattern, I think just to make myself feel better for having spent the money on a pattern that I can’t use. I’m not happy with the patch pockets; they’re going to droop. So on her next dress–ladybugs, short sleeves, but otherwise the same concept–I decided to try interior pockets. I consulted my sewing reference book and one of her Lands’ End knit dresses and got to work.

interior pockets in progress at amyhoodarts.com

I’m not done with that dress just yet–I want to reinforce the pocket openings (I already know how I’d do it a little different next time) and then I just need to sew the skirt to the tee and I’m done. I’m particularly happy with how the skirt is sewn in on the first one. I pleated all that extra fabric in. Careful pleating, pinning, and sewing. Here’s how it looks from the inside…

pleating from inside the dress at amyhoodarts.com

and a close-up of the outside.

pleating on sewn knit dress at amyhoodarts.com

It turns out sewing with knits was the least of the difficulties here–the pattern I originally chose was unworkable. I’m pretty chuffed that I put this together and I love the Oliver + S t-shirt pattern. I think I’ll get lots of use out of that. The second time, the shirt whipped up quickly. The only place I had difficulty with the knit fabric itself was hemming the sleeves. They ended up with a slight flare, which I decided to call a design element. And you know what? My daughter told me (without knowing I’d struggled with the sleeve hems) that her favorite part was the way the cuffs ruffled a bit. There you go. Best dress ever (until the ladybug dress is finished!).

Custom Printed Tea Towels

A while ago now, I was asked if I could print tea towels with the rock crab linocut. I poked around, got suggestions, and decided on Moda toweling, ordering some in white and natural. In the meantime I experimented with printing a linocut on fabric using different paints and inks, but I couldn’t get a result that I was happy with. I decided the best choice was to carve a new rock crab stamp; I have always gotten good results printing my hand-carved stamps on fabric. When the toweling arrived, I experimented some more. Finally, these are the results.

Custom printed tea towels at amyhoodarts.com

The towels are approximately 16″ wide by 24″ long, and the natural is even softer than the white. They wash up beautifully, and the images are printed with heat-set fabric ink with a crab at each end. I packaged them up with a tag that includes washing instructions and the inspiration behind the image.

tea towel ready to gift at amyhoodarts.com

I enjoy working with people for custom orders, especially when it’s an idea that hadn’t yet occurred to me, such as printing on tea towels. (I’ve printed on them before; it just hadn’t occurred to me to print them with my own hand-carved stamps and offer them for sale.) It’s really gratifying when somebody loves an image I’ve imagined and created, and envisioning it in another form is excellent. It makes the final result a collaboration, and that’s very cool.

If you’re interested in any custom work, I’d love to hear from you!

Just Knitting

It’s November in New England and all I want to do is knit.

pile of knitting

To that end, I have added three pairs of Evangeline mitts (modified to my liking) and a Saroyan scarf to the gift closet stash. I keep thinking I should be drawing or painting or coming up with another stamp or linocut design…. but all I really want to do is knit, so I’m going with it. (I also want to sew, a little bit. I have fabric for dresses for my 6yo, but the first pattern I bought was awful so now I’m modifying something else and, oh, it’s a long story. I haven’t gotten up the courage to cut the material yet.) I’m just going to trust the process, indulge what I feel pulled to do, and let my brain work on stuff in the background. Usually a period of relative restfulness (knitting is very restful, especially when it’s old familiar patterns) ends with a creative burst.

But, speaking of those old familiar patterns….I’ve modified those Evangeline mitts so much that almost all that’s left is the cable pattern. So, I thought, why not fool around a bit with a basic mitten pattern and a stitch dictionary and see if I can come up with something completely unique? Occasionally I get asked if I sell the mitts and I always say no, because strictly speaking, it’s not my pattern. It would be nice to have the option, I suppose.

cabled mitt in progress

So I guess I’m not being totally dormant on the creative front.

In other news, I’m vacuuming every other day, we’ve only had one showing so far, and I’ll be burying St. Joseph upside down any day now. I have thought about Christmas exactly Not At All. Our six-year-old is sounding out words and beginning to read and losing teeth. Our oldest will be thirteen in less than two weeks and that’s going well some days. And on Saturday I’ll be getting on a train to New Haven to meet someone in person that I’ve only spoken to online. (Aside to my kids: Don’t do that.) So in general, you know, despite the real estate uncertainty, things are pretty good here.

Jon Scieszka-Inspired Writing Workshop

Don't Forget to WriteNot too long ago, I saw the book Don’t Forget To Write in the poets.org email newsletter and ordered it more or less on a whim. It looked good. Tuesday, all my kids were home for Election Day, so I decided to plan a writing workshop from one of the ideas in the book. I like having all my kids home, and while it’s true that in many ways, my middle child is less distracted when he’s the only one home, many explorations work better in a group. Some alchemy exists when ideas are shared, and who can deny the thrill of immediate positive feedback*?

This book is full of activities written by writing workshop leaders, including published authors, and I don’t remember the last time I browsed a kids’ writing book and wanted to try just about all the prompts. This book is good. Because we enjoy Jon Scieszka’s books, I decided to begin with his “lesson,” which consists of him sharing the inspiration for many of his books and inviting us to write stories in the same way. We own The Stinky Cheese Man, and I brought home a couple more from the library last week and left them around so they’d be fresh in the kids’ minds.

Scieszka books

The Stinky Cheese Man is a book of “fairly stupid tales,” created by changing something in a fairy tale in order to make it, well, stupid. Squids Will Be Squids is a book of fables written, Scieszka says, by taking stories of annoying or gross habits, turning the people involved into animals, and attaching a lesson. And The True Story of the Three Little Pigs is simply a fairy tale written from another character’s point of view.

And so we all got to writing, or dictating, in the case of my 6yo. She chose to tell the story of the Three Billy Goats Gruff from the troll’s point of view, that poor tired troll, who was trying to take a nap and got woken up by all that trip-trapping over his head, plus a very bad headache, too. My middle child also visited the troll and billy goats, creating a fairly stupid tale by having the troll yell so loudly at the goats that they fell right off the bridge and died, so he ate them. I took the testimony of the duck, the dog, and the cat, who never showed an interest in gardening and wouldn’t have planted the seed anyway, so why is the Little Red Hen so grumpy over pursuing her own hobbies? And my oldest, my almost-teen, good-naturedly agreed to participate and then wrote this fable, which he said I could share. It made me laugh out loud.

Turtle had a pretty good life. Most of the time, he was able to do what he pleased. But one day, Lion came by. Turtle had a day off from work, so he was looking forward to a day of relaxing. But Lion had other ideas. Her cubs were doing schoolwork, and she thought that turtle should do it too, even though it was his day off. So she had him do work and constantly reminded him of what to do.

Moral: Some people don’t enjoy the same things as others. Think of others’ point of view.

For the record, he laughed out loud reading Squids Will Be Squids, and he contributed really good comments on everybody else’s stories. Maybe I can talk him into sitting in on another writing workshop with us on Veteran’s Day…

*The kids were told before anybody read out loud: We’ll be sharing something we like about each other’s stories. This was a workshop focused on generating ideas and getting words down, not tearing apart and revision.

A Frozen Birthday

My sweet, extroverted girl started school this year, and every day I hear about what she did with the other girls in her class. Within days she knew all their names, and she tells me about their make-believe games during recess and what they talk about and she is obviously enjoying that aspect of school so much. We don’t host “friends” birthday parties for the kids every year, but I wanted G to have a chance to experience that with this set of school friends. She was so, so excited at the idea of having her school friends over to her house. So despite everything else going on–cleaning and clearing and travel and listing the house–we planned a party, inspired by her favorite movie, Frozen.

amyhoodarts.com

I suppose we really ought to remove the streamers before we show the house to anyone, but I kind of don’t want to.

amyhoodarts.com

Table set and awaiting guests to arrive. While we waited for everyone, we had snow globes to make, with pre-glued penguins.

amyhoodarts.com

Goodness but these snow globes gave me fits. We have one that we made five years ago and the penguin is still firmly affixed. I used the same waterproof glue, yet some of these penguins became swimmers, and we had some leakage problems around the lids. Everyone was very nice about it, but it does gall me a bit.

After making snow globes (with glitter, of course), we went on a treasure hunt. The first clue led the girls to love expert trolls, an idea I got from this site.

"love expert" pet rock trolls at amyhoodarts.com

Some had already been scooped up when I snapped this photo. The rest look a little nervous about it, don’t they? I’d like to glue googly eyes onto everything now. These rocks just kill me.

G and N both helped with the treasure hunt planning. G decided what treats we should include, and N helped me with hiding places and clues. The girls received Frozen pencils and stickers, sparkly play-dough “snowballs,” and plastic costume jewelry necklaces (fit for a princess, of course). V came along too to help with general herding, and at cake-and-ice-cream time, he poured out lemonade for all the girls. It was a lovely bonus of the party to see my boys helping to make sure their younger sister and her guests enjoyed themselves.

amyhoodarts.com

And enjoy herself she did. She was so sad when it was time for her guests to go home, but she also thanked me for throwing her a party. I’m so glad we did. Lots of big things are happening here, but it’s important to mark the special days, too, and not let them get lost in the shuffle. A party full of little girls (in sparkly costumes!) is a new experience in this family and it was just about the sweetest thing ever. A perfectly perfect way to spend a Saturday afternoon in late October.

Strawberry DNA + Cheese

Two separate activities, of course. Homeschooling goes on, amidst everything else, and I’d like to report on what N is doing more frequently but, well, many things have fallen off the list here, replaced with super fun activities like cleaning and clearing all the things. It’s more of a priority to do the activities than blog about them, obviously. But I wanted to share some things from this week and lo! I have managed to.

Firstly, he is working through his chosen science curriculum, REAL Science Odyssey Level 2. It’s a challenge–this is definitely not just a review of things he already knows. Depending on the material, I have us cover a chapter in two weeks instead of one, so we’re just now starting Chapter 7, which introduces DNA. In one of my decluttering sweeps I found instructions for extracting DNA from strawberries, which we picked up years ago at an open house event at URI’s Graduate School of Oceanography. You can find lots of instructions online for this if you search. I like URI’s handout because the measurements are scientific and precise–in milliliters and grams–and it explains the why behind each step. The only thing I had to go out and buy was pineapple juice.

N is proudly displaying the test tube containing our results.

DNA extracted from strawberries at amyhoodarts.com

The DNA is that cloudy stuff right at the spot where the clear liquid (cold rubbing alcohol) and the pink liquid (strawberry mixture) meet. Here’s a close-up.

DNA extracted from strawberries at amyhoodarts.com

How cool is that?? So cool. Then we fished it out with a toothpick and looked at it under the microscope. You can’t see the double helix, of course, but it’s still so cool.

Earlier this week, he made cheese. Just about a year ago, he made his first couple of batches, and then…lost interest. He asked to do it again recently, and chose a dessert ricotta. The recipe called for citric acid powder, which we finally tracked down at the local Ace Hardware after striking out in all grocery stores we tried. The cheese was fantastic.

homemade dessert ricotta at amyhoodarts.com

We realized we needed something to eat it with, so we made cake. The next day I made ricotta cookies. We still have about half a pound of ricotta left, so I think I’ll make more ricotta cookies. This is a yummy project.

And one final thing related to homeschooling…the latest issue of Home/School/Life Magazine is out; my column is full of tips to make visiting an art museum with young kids fun for everybody. You can subscribe or buy a single issue of the magazine here, or try to win a copy at Mud Puddles to Meteors.