July 29, 2013 in Random Thoughts, Reflections on Pop Culture

As a volunteer art teacher in my sons’ elementary school, I am familiar with the classics, both the artists (Van Gogh, Picasso, Monet, and Dali) and the mediums (watercolors, tempera, acrylic, and chalk and oil pastels). They are fantastic, and I get a thrill from them all. But what really gets me excited is when I come across a new artist (or new to me, anyway) who creates art with a medium that I’ve never even thought of using for art.

Su Blackwell is one such artist (I wrote about her here): she creates intricate fairy tale scenes with the pages in a book.

The Girl in the Wood, Su Blackwell   

Today I thought I’d share with you some other exciting artists that are turning the art world on its ear with their ability to think out of the box and create with materials not commonly associated with traditional art. Enjoy!

David M. Ghetti.
Pencil lead.

David M. Ghetti. Giraffe.

David M. Ghetti. Hammer.

Andy Goldsworthy. Made with snow.

Andy Goldsworthy. Colored leaves around a hole in the ground.

Andy Goldsworthy. Created with leaves.

Lui Bolin. Camouflage artist. (Can you find him in the picture?)

Lui Bolin. Camouflage artist. (He’s in this picture too!)

Maurizio Savini. Chewing gum.

Maurizio Savini. Chewing gum.

Guido Daniele. Painted Hands.



July 25, 2013 in Book Reviews

The Twelve Dancing Princesses 

If you’ve picked up an Oprah or a Real Simple magazine lately, you may have seen something amazing: full color spreads of the most whimsical, fragile, and utterly charming artistic creations I have seen in awhile. The artist is Su Blackwell and her medium is the pages within books.

Snow White in the Woods

She is particularly drawn to fairy tales and folklore, and it’s easy to see why. There is a fragility to these characters that is perfectly reflected in the intricate cuts and translucent colors she uses to create her scenes. On her website, she says they convey the “vulnerability of childhood, while also conveying a sense of childhood anxiety and wonder.”

The Raven

Little Red Riding Hood

I love that she reads each book once or twice before dissecting it into a fantasyland of detail and magic.

If you are looking to drift into an entirely different world, Su Blackwell’s The Fairytale Princess is a breathtaking spin on the classic princess fairy tales, all illustrated with her paper creations. I gasped in delight every time I turned the page, and my sons didn’t complain once that we were reading about princesses at bedtime because they, too, couldn’t take their eyes off the pages.







If you are interested in finding out more about Su Blackwell and/or this medium, Art Made From Books features a host of contemporary book artists, including Su Blackwell, all who use the book in different ways to create their art. The book will be released August 20, 2013, and I am looking forward to having it arrive on my doorstep!

In the meantime, I can peruse Su Blackwell’s online store for prints, stationery, greeting cards, and books featuring her art. I’m fairly certain one of these will also be arriving on my doorstep sometime soon.


July 22, 2013 in Adventures in Parenting

I don’t know how I got to this age without ever making a tie dye shirt. I have kids, I love art…how did this experience get missed?

I had a dormmate in college who wore tie dye shirts every single day. I mean, every single day. I’m sure if I would have expressed interest, he would have showed me some techniques, but he always seemed to be busy doing something else…mostly smoking pot.

Lots of my mom friends take a day out of the summer to tie dye with their daughters, but I have sons, and as luck would have it, none of them have any patience for art in any form. (In previous summers, I have spent hours prepping beautiful art projects that have taken my sons 30 seconds to “complete.”) But perhaps tie dying would be different? After all, you get a T-shirt out of it, and my boys love their T-shirts.

So this summer was tie dye or bust! I bought my supplies. I spent hours on the internet investigating every possible tie dye pattern and watching YouTube videos on how to fold them. I corralled my kids and made them select the pattern they wanted to make (it took them 10 seconds), and then I set us up on our deck in the backyard.

In case you have never done tie dye before, here are some tips:

  • When it says “Protect your work surface!” just know that if you are working with kids, you cannot have enough protection unless you drape your entire backyard, and yourself, in plastic wrap.
  • Double check the sizes so that you don’t accidentally have your oldest son design his masterpiece on a T-shirt that is several sizes too small.
  • Plan to spend approximately 35 minutes trying to fold the shirt according to the YouTube video and still not have it look right.
  • Allow 30 seconds for your children to squirt tie dye all over their shirts with absolutely no regard to colors or patterns.
  • Prepare for whining when you flip the shirt over. “I have to do the back too?”
  • Know that no matter how careful you are, your skin will get stained. My hands are now a beautiful rainbow of colors, as are the bottom of my feet (don’t ask). Inexplicably, my kids’ skin is pristine.

  •  Don’t expect a neat pattern when applying the tie dye, even if you are an adult. The colors bleed all over the place and the bottles of dye drip color into undesired places.
  • If you are genuinely interested in creating the perfect tie dye shirt, make yours first! I made the mistake of allowing my kids first dibs on the colors from a kit that claimed to be enough for 5 shirts: it wasn’t, and we only made 4. They used up almost all the bright red and cool blue, leaving me with yellow. If you like yellow and are not that interested in making a pattern, then it’s fine. If you’re allergic to yellow fabric dye, then it’s not so great.

I am glad I finally tried tie dye and I even learned something about myself. As a volunteer art teacher, I have taught both some of the messiest and some of the most precise art projects you can imagine and have loved them both. But what I don’t like is a project like tie dying, which depends on the precision of pattern and folding to achieve the desired effect, and yet gives you a medium such as fabric dye, which guarantees a messy result.

Or perhaps I need to let go a little and just let the beauty of an irregularly blended pattern-esque tie dye T-shirt in all its brilliant yellow wash over me.

The look I was aiming for.

What I actually ended up with.

That may take awhile.


July 18, 2013 in Reflections on Pop Culture

I love summer! The sunshine, the heat, the backyard BBQs with thick watermelon slices, the sweet popsicles and luscious ice cream sandwiches, the smells of sunscreen and chlorine…and of course, the music.

For it’s not summer unless you’re driving around with your windows down, your hair blowing in the breeze, and your radio cranked to a catchy summer tune.

My first memory of this enchanting rite of summer was when I was in high school, probably not long after I got my license. I clearly remember driving in bumper-to-bumper traffic, the heat radiating in waves off the pavement that was no deterrent to barefoot surfers darting their way through the trail of cars to get to the beach, my own bikini straps peeking out of my tank top, and my portable cassette player propped beside me blaring Banarama’s Cruel Summer while my arm dangled out of my driver’s side window. Ahhh…summer!

Every year, a “song of summer” is christened: the one song that epitomizes the easy, breezy feel of summer for that year, and that also happens to be a mondo hit. Think 1982’s Eye of the Tiger by Survivor or 1999’s Livin’ La Vida Loca by Ricky Martin.

After I had kids, I lost sight of the songs of summer. Instead, I became a student of The Wiggles, Laurie Berkner, and the soundtrack from Bear in the Big Blue House. They’re all fabulous children’s songs, but they don’t quite meet the criteria for a great summer song.

One day while I was out running, I stumbled across a DJ on the radio making a case for the Plain White T’s hit song Hey There, Delilah being the song of the summer for 2007. What? What? That’s not a song of the summer! It’s a poignant acoustic ballad. That would be a lovely fall song, with the crisp chill in the air offset by a warm, crackling fire. It’s something you would listen to while tucked under a cozy blanket reading a book. It is not a song you’d blare in your car while slathered in sunscreen and drinking a cherry Slurpee. What has the world come to?

As it turned out, the song of the summer remained respectable with Rhianna’s Umbrella, which I had never heard of, and which prompted me to banish all children’s CDs from my car. I am happy to report that I’m back on the summer song scene, especially since my kids are old enough to reach the dial on my car radio, rendering me hip in spite of myself.

The front runner for this year’s song of the summer is Daft Punk’s Get Lucky, which is a seriously catchy song, as exhibited by my seven-year-old singing “I’m up all night to get lucky” everywhere we go. I know, I know…I’m a bad parent, but I defy you to listen to that song and not start singing it yourself. Just don’t let your kids hear you.

Robin Thicke’s Blurred Lines is getting a lot of play too. (Yes, he’s the son of Alan Thicke from that old, great TV series Growing Pains.) I’m scared to know what they’re actually singing about, but there’s no denying that this is a fun song that I cannot sit still through and I can easily picture myself blaring this one out the window as I drive the kids to soccer practice.

Our hometown band Macklemore and Ryan Lewis have a candidate too: Can’t Hold Us. This song screams summer: upbeat, exciting, good beat, and I do love that they’re locals!

I’d like to throw a late entry into the mix: One Republic’s Counting Stars. Boy, do I ever love this song. I like One Republic in general, but there’s something about this song that immediately lifts my spirits and gets my toes tapping on the accelerator.

It’s too soon to say for certain what will emerge as the Song of the Summer 2013, but with these options, I think we’re in good hands.

Curious as to what other summer songs there have been over the years? Click here for one listing, but be warned: as with all things subjective, there isn’t always a clear consensus. (For completeness, 2011 was LMFAO’s Party Rock Anthem and 2012 was Call Me Maybe by Carly Rae Jepsen.)

Are any songs screaming Song of the Summer for you?


July 15, 2013 in Chocolate! (and other less exalted food experiences), Random Thoughts

Oprah Magazine is one of my favorites, for a variety of reasons: inspirational tales, ways to be a better you, advice from gurus such as Dr. Phil and Dr. Oz, and loads of book recommendations…what’s not to love?

There are unexpected treasures of information to be found on every page, and I hit pay dirt with this little gem tucked away in the July 2013 issue. Way in the back, on page 108 in the middle of a section entitled O, Happy Day, was a small column called Be Surprised by Katie Arnold-Ratliff.

Surprises are a mixed bag for me. They’re great if I’m surprised with something I actually want, like a surprise dinner out to a nice restaurant. A surprise dinner out to a sushi restaurant? Not so much. (I have an aversion to seafood.)

But my goodness! The surprises listed in this column are a) right up my alley, b) things I have never heard of before, and are therefore surprises in themselves, and c) so awesome I’m going to rush right out and sign myself up!

I have been a recipient of Harry and David’s fabulous Fruit-of-the-Month Club in the past, and if you’re a fruit lover, it is a divine gift. Lush, juicy cherries arrive on your doorstop in June, nectarines in July, and their signature pears in August, for example. It’s all deliciously spelled out for you.

But did you know you can belong to a surprise club where you have no idea what you’ll be getting?

Standard Cocoa offers this delectable club: every month you receive 3 different chocolate bars from an artisan chocolate maker. What kind of chocolate bars will you receive? They won’t say. It’s a surprise! I just signed up for the 3-month club and my first shipment will arrive in August. Now that’s a surprise I’m looking forward to!

Powell’s Books has a surprise subscription club too: every six weeks they’ll deliver a signed edition of a selected novel  accompanied by various surprise treats that coordinate with the book’s theme. If you’re a book lover (which I am), doesn’t this sound like heaven? In a past installment, subscribers received a signed first edition of John Brandon’s A Million Heavens. Because music is a prominent theme in the book, it was accompanied by a chapbook called How Music Works by David Byrne and—get this—a harmonica! What a fun surprise! I would love the job of coming up with the surprise, theme-related treats to include in this gift box. Can you imagine?

I have my eye on this sight. The next book they list that I cannot live without, I’m diving in!

Anyone else know of a surprise club?


July 11, 2013 in Adventures in Parenting

For reasons that are beyond me, I feel compelled to instigate some sort of summer educational program for my kids every year. Maybe it’s because as a child, I loved workbooks. I thought it was fun to practice my multiplication tables while coloring in the picture, like an advanced color-by-number project. (In retrospect, there may have been something wrong with me.) But I also think it is worth it to spend a bit of time each day keeping all the skills and knowledge my kids learned during the school year fresh and at their fingertips…and the fact that it gets them off X-Box periodically is a bonus.

We always participate in our local library’s Summer Reading Program. This year’s theme is “Dig Into Reading.” The goal is to read 1000 minutes over the summer by reading 20 minutes every day and tracking their progress on an underground tunnel worksheet made by creatures of the deep. Prizes are awarded at the 500-minute (a packet of seeds to plant) and 1000-minute mark (a reader bag: perfect for carrying around loads of library books!). It’s an easy way to keep my kids motivated to read.

In past years, I’ve done the Summer Bridge Workbooks (available on Amazon). These are great workbooks broken down into achievable sections, with a suggested reading list and lots of ideas for incentives. Again, an easy motivator for squirmy kids chomping at the bit to get outside.

Another great source for workbooks is The Critical Thinking Company. I love this website! There is something for everyone here: general educational workbooks, subject specific workbooks, and even puzzle books that encourage logical thinking and deductive reasoning. In addition, some of their materials are available on CD-Rom for those kids who would rather shovel a spoonful of brussel sprouts down their throat than put pen to paper.


If you are looking for math help, IXL is a website that our school uses in conjunction with its math curriculum. We have access to it during the school year, but it only costs $9.95 per month for those summer months, with each additional family member costing only $2.00 more. As your kids practice, reports are sent to your email so that you can track your child’s progress.

To brush up on those keyboarding skills, try  SlimeKids or Free Typing Games: they’re free!

This summer, I am keeping a list on my refrigerator with each child’s daily “homework.” If they complete it every day for a week, then they get a prize. Last week they earned a trip to Baskin-Robbins for an ice cream cone with toppings. Perhaps next week they will work towards a round of miniature golf or a movie!

I know I’m not the only one who keeps their kids on a summer schedule. My friend Shay takes her summer school plan to another level. She has a giant wipe board with a list of activities that her kids have to do for an hour:

Creative Time (draw, color, play games, etc.)

Hygiene (shower, dress, brush teeth, etc.)

Brain Exercise (math, reading, etc.)

Physical Exercise

Chore/Kind Act

I love it, especially the “Kind Act.” Now those kids are learning something this summer!

Hopefully mine will too.

What summer educational activities do you plan for your children?


July 8, 2013 in Adventures in Re-Discovering Myself

I usually get my mom a gift certificate to the spa for Christmas. And Mother’s Day. And her birthday and for babysitting my kids… It’s a great gift—what’s not to like about going to the spa?—but I think I’ve gotten stuck in a rut. So for this Mother’s Day, I went out of the box: tickets to the Iron Vintner Challenge Championship.

Held at Willows Lodge in Woodinville, the Iron Vintner Challenge is a riff on Food Network’s Iron Chef, with four local vintners competing. The first two rounds had already been completed and we were there to watch the two winners battle it out in the championship round. They had one hour to prepare an appetizer and an entrée featuring a yet-to-be announced secret protein.

My mom and I both love Iron Chef (and wine) so we were expecting a great evening.

The challenge was hosted by Chef Bobby, a real live wire and chef at Barking Frog. If you’re a local, treat yourself to a dinner there sometime: it’s absolutely delicious. The vintners were Lisa Baer of Baer Winery and Chris Peterson of Avennia, and the secret protein was reveled to be beef and bacon.

While they cooked, we sampled their wines…yum! Chris’s 2010 Avennia, Gravura Bordeaux Blend was my favorite wine of the evening. It was divine!


We thought Chef Bobby would narrate the cooking process like they do on Iron Chef, so we could hear what additional ingredients they were using and how they were preparing the beef and bacon, but no. Instead, we were invited to come up, watch the contestants, and ask them questions. I asked a couple, but frankly, if it were me (and it has been me when we did our family version of Chopped), the last thing I would want to do in that situation would be to answer idle questions by half-hammered spectators sucking down my expensive wine for free.

So I mingled with the celebrity judges instead, namely Ted Baseler, CEO of Chateau Ste. Michelle Winery, and the ever popular Baby Got Back rapper Sir Mix-A-Lot!

Although we went there for the food battle, we didn’t get to taste the food and I have no idea what they even made. A little sampler plate for the audience members would have made it the perfect evening. But we did have an exceptional artisan cheese platter, and our tablemates were a joy.

Lisa Baer took home top honors for her food creations, but the big winner of the evening was Little Bit Therapeutic Riding Center, which provides horseback riding to adults and kids with disabilities. As a fundraiser, they auctioned off great packages, and I’m only sorry I couldn’t afford the ride in Sir Mix-A-Lot’s McLaren. (I did win an auction item, but that’s a blog for another day!)

Next year will be the Iron Vintner Champions Edition. I can’t wait!


July 3, 2013 in Tales of Inspiration


I am a sucker for a come-from-behind-against-all-odds sports story. Remember the Titans, Moneyball, any episode of Friday Night Lights…I love them all. And now I can add my oldest son’s final game for the Little League Championship to the list.

At this age, who is pitching is key. Games are won or lost on the pitcher’s shoulders, and with mandatory rest days after a certain number of pitches thrown in a game, pitcher eligibility becomes a huge factor.

My son’s year-end tournament had a double elimination format. If a team wins, they get a day of rest before their next game. If they lose, they play every day until they lose again, and then they’re out. In other words, if you lose, you are set up to lose because you burn out all of your pitchers. Losing teams find themselves playing a higher-ranked team with no one eligible to pitch except a kid from the outfield who hasn’t stepped onto the mound all year.

My son’s Yankees team played well and found themselves in the Championship game undefeated with great pitchers eligible to take the mound. We were playing against the Angels, who had lost one game (to us). Because of the double elimination format, we needed to beat the Angels once to win the Championship, while they had to beat us twice to win.

On paper, the Yankees looked to be the favorite, except for one thing: should the Yankees lose the first game, the Angels star pitcher would be eligible for the second, and the Yankees didn’t have an answer for him. As one player said, “If we lose this game, there’s a 100% chance we’ll lose the next one too.”

The Angels had to win this game; the Yankees did too.

But we were down 0-3 at the end of the first 1/2 of the first inning, and we could not make up that deficit.

We got hits, but were thrown out at first base. We got someone on base, but they were thrown out stealing home. Defense played tight on both teams, and the score remained 0-3.

The game continued. Tensions were high, both on the field and in the stands. The bleachers were full, and still spectators came trickling in: “Who’s winning?” We got a rally going and scored a run. Another inning went by, and we scored again. By the end of the sixth inning, we were tied 3-3 and headed to extra innings. It was anybody’s game.

Finally, our team benefited from a couple of wild pitches. With the score still tied, we had the bases loaded with two outs. Up to bat: #46, arguably one of the least effective batters on the team.

The pitcher pitched: strike 1.

The pitcher pitched: strike 2.

Bases loaded, 2 outs, 2 strikes: the exact situation #46 found himself in earlier in the game. That time, he struck out.

The odds weren’t good. The pressure on this poor kid was too high and the count against him almost insurmountable. We prepared ourselves for yet another inning.

The pitcher pitched: cr-r-a-a-ck! #46 smacked the baseball into the outfield for a single.

There was a moment of stunned silence. Our 3rd base runner’s jaw dropped. And then he started to run for home plate. The dugout emptied and our bleachers erupted.

#46 brought home the winning run, the game, and the Championship all with one well-timed swing of the bat, and was mobbed at first base by his deliriously happy teammates. After a season of struggling at the plate, an unlikely hero got his moment in the sun.

Now that is a come-from-behind-against-all-odds sports story for the ages.