Sunday, January 31, 2016

Lego birthday party favors! Only $2.25 per kid!!

Every year I try to think of something fun (and inexpensive!) to do for my kid's birthday party. Last year I did these super labor intensive magnetic poetry kits. It was a very cost effective idea, and I do love a creative challenge, but ideally I would not be spending that much time on stuff like this. The year before I did cute, little notepads. Those were simple to make and came out really great. This year, however, I think I REALLY outdid myself with fun little Lego kits. 

We started out by going to the Lego store with the intent of creating a little creature, or robot or vehicle or something out of the Legos they had available on their wall of single, loose, bulk pieces. In no time Finn whipped up a crazy little duck-like robot. We collected enough pieces to build 10 identical creatures, one for each party guest, and managed to fit all the pieces into the larger sized bulk bucket ($15).

Using my "just-enough-to-get-by" Photoshop skills I whipped up an instruction sheet on how to build these guys and we sorted all the pieces into take-out boxes that I got at Michaels.

The take-out boxes were $3.89 (yay for 40% off coupons!) and I had a whopping bill of $3.85 from the local print shop to get the instructions and the sheet of names and eyes printed up. My total cost for these favor boxes was $22.74, divided by ten kids makes it about $2.27 per kid and the best part was that the kids loved them!

Wednesday, August 5, 2015

Bikini top doily revamp

I had this white bikini top that was always a little too sheer for my liking so I thought of a great and easy way to make it both extra special and to give myself a little more coverage. Happy summer!
 The first photo shows the original top. I found two doilies the perfect size (this particular type were meant to go on the arms of fancy chairs, y'know, in the olden days. Vintage doilies are easy to find on ebay and at thrift/antique stores. I the second photo you can see how I carefully pinned the doilies along the edge of the existing top. Next I sewed them on using cotton thread and a zig zag stitch. Summertime sass! Viola!

Tuesday, January 27, 2015

Super fun DIY magnetic story kits / birthday party favors for under $2 per kid!!

Another year, another birthday party, another brainstorming session about what to give out for party favors. Every year I try to think of something besides the usual bag of plastic toys and candy (not that there's anything wrong with that - and let's face it, kids love it.) I love nothing more than a creative challenge so it's become fun for me to come up with a cool, new idea each year. Last year I made these cute little notepads and also included a bunch of other stuff I got on the cheap at Michaels. This year I had the idea to make some magnetic poetry story making kits (don't sue me Magnetic Poetry!) and I'm SO happy with how they came out!!

Here's what you need to make them:
2 cases of Altoids (12 tins total), about $5/each at BJ's: $10
2 sheets of magnet paper, about $9/each at AC Moore: $13.50 (I used a 50% off coupon for one)
acrylic spray sealer (I also had this on hand)
shipping or address labels (I used half-sheet shipping labels that I had on hand)
random, cute scraps of paper (you might recognize mine from last year's project :)
some basic computer skills
rotary trimmer, or an x-acto and ruler

The most time consuming part of this for me was coming up with the text. The first draft was insane, but I was able to condense it down to the basics, I allotted half the page (which is also where the labels split) for each kid. The easy part is making it silly, the hard part is making sure your words/story parts work together. the hardest part is making the tense work with the verbs. I didn't go too crazy with it, but I tried to just keep everything past tense and have enough little words (on, it, at, of, etc.) and also add-on endings (ing, ed, s). When brainstorming I thought about it as if I was writing mad-libs and just added in as many variations and embellishments as I could. I did a mix of single words and story parts (like, "there was a" "later that day" "huge bowl of" etc.) Once I printed the text on to the shipping labels I was ready to carefully stick them down on the magnet paper.

be sure to burnish them down well
Once I had them all stuck down I sprayed them with the acrylic sealer (I did this down in the basement because it's stinky). Do this in 3 light coats (allowing it to dry fully between coats). I can't stress enough how important this step is, it takes the magnets from paper that will easily be ruined being on a refrigerator and turns makes it have an almost vinyl-like feel and appearance, so profesh!!

While they were drying/in between coats I got to work emptying the Altoid tins (maybe you're the type of person who eats a lot of Altoids and keep the tins - if so this is the perfect craft for you!) Unfortunately I don't eat that many, but now I have a huge jar of them, fresh breath forever!

When all the sheets were dry I started cutting them out. I used a rotary trimmer, but you could just as easily use an x-acto and a ruler, or even just scissors. I cut them into long strips and then just used scissors to cut the words apart from each other. I also included a few blank strips with each set so kids could add in any words/phrases they thought were missing. The tricky part here was that my rotary trimmer base it metal! Ahh! This made the sheets a little hard to wrangle, but I managed.

I snipped the words directly into each tin so that I wouldn't get the individual sets mixed up since I had personalized each one with the kids' names. This part took kind of a while, but since we had a blizzard today it was the perfect opportunity to get it done, plus I was so psyched with how they came out it was exciting to see it all coming together.

At the same time as I made the words I also made smaller labels (cut from the bigger, half-sheet shipping labels) in a size to fit the top of the Altoid tin. The final step was wrapping the tins with my paper scraps and sticking on the label.


And here's a quick story I forced Finn to make so I could take a photo Finn made. Fun times!!

Saturday, January 10, 2015

Started on a summer Sunday...

In 1986 I was 12, homeschooled, awkward, and had just discovered college radio. I became obsessed with WSMU, the radio station of what was then called Southeastern Massachusetts University, and which would later become University Of Massachusetts Dartmouth (and my own alma mater). My favorite DJ had a British accent and I imagined him to be exceedingly good looking. I spent a lot of time mustering up the courage to call in, but the stress over what I could request to impress him became too daunting. But more than that it was about the music. I felt like a switch had been flipped inside me. Up until then I mostly listened to stuff I heard on regular radio; I had Madonna, Cyndi Lauper, Weird Al, Huey Lewis and Chipmunk Punk on pretty heavy rotation, but all that changed when I discovered WSMU. I listened in my room, at night, on my double tape deck boombox. I started recording shows and then feverishly tried to write down all the band names when the DJ came back on. I would then try to match up the songs and maybe 75% of the time get them right. I made a LOT of those tapes, the only thing slowing me down was that I didn't have access to many blank tapes, but then I learned that you could record over any cassette if you taped up the holes on the top side (sorry about those Bing Crosby Christmas tapes, mom).

There was one song that really packed a huge punch for me, I had never heard anything like it and I just couldn't get enough of it. It was called Silly Girl, and at the time, in my scribbled notes I had it erroneously attributed it to Black Flag. I listened for other Black Flag songs, because clearly they were my new favorite band, but everything I heard just confused me. This wasn't right! This couldn't be the same band! I considered calling the hot British DJ and asking him, but I was too embarrassed. It wasn't until about a year later that I heard the Descendents and realized (with a tremendous wave of excitement) that it was their song.

For years I laughed at my own naiveté for confusing Black Flag and the Descendents. Then tonight Tom and I went to see Filmage (which was totally amazing) and Bill Stevenson recounted how he wrote "Silly Girl" during the time that the Descendents were broken up and he was playing with Black Flag! He knew it wasn't right for Black Flag so when the Descendents got back together they made it into a song. This kind of blew my mind! So was it a crazy coincidence that I wrote down Black Flag on my tape of that song?? Or maybe that DJ was telling the story of the song and knew that info? Which doesn't seem likely to me because, back then, unless you knew the bands I can't imagine anyone would know a random tidbit of info like that. But who knows... it's just funny when little moments like that come rushing back from the depth of your memories. It's kind of like a bit of time traveling. I'm going to go look for those tapes.....

Wednesday, September 3, 2014

B&E (Bored & Exploring)

 Next door to the loft I grew up in stood a magnificent castle. Technically it wasn't a castle, but that's what we called it. "The Castle" was a huge (by my standards) stone, Gothic Revival home. It had an enormous (by my standards) yard filled with overgrown gardens and gigantic oak trees. Facing the water and surrounded by stone walls and tall hedges it was truly a sight to behold. But the best part about The Castle? It was abandoned.

The loft we lived in was surrounded by pavement, parking lots, and ship building companies. The air was heavy with fiberglass dust, but with a quick hop over the fence I had a quiet, magical wonderland all to myself. It was my very own secret garden. I spent my days exploring the grounds, careful not to be seen by neighbors or passersby. The biggest oak tree was in the back yard, a secluded spot and it was great for climbing. When I was 11 climbed up with a particularly exciting bit of contraband. A single cigarette - stolen from my dad's pack of Marlboro Reds. I climbed to the highest spot, held tight with my legs and struck the match. I smoked the whole thing, coughing and dizzy, and eventually (weakly and slowly) made my way back down to earth. It was my last tree cigarette.

The Castle yard was all mine until a few years later when I noticed some action around the house. Construction! They must be fixing it up! The workers being there during the day put a real damper on my usual hang out spot, but I took advantage of the opportunity to do some major spying. It was around this time, seeing people going in and out, that I became obsessed with getting into the house. Getting in had always been something I dreamed of, but I had already tried all the doors and I wasn't about to start breaking windows, so I had been content with just staying in the yard. Then one day after the workers had gone I noticed that the back door had been left slightly ajar. My heart leapt up to my throat, could it be true?? I looked around, the coast was clear, and I walked over to the door. Before I could change my mind I pushed it open and quickly slipped inside. My heart was beating loudly in my ears, the sun was setting. Long shadows and warm light filled the house. I had built up so many ghost stories about the place that the only thing matching my excitement was terror. I explored the first floor, but was too scared to go upstairs alone. Even now, thinking back, it's hard to remember what's real and what's made up. Over the years I've had so many dreams/nightmares about it, it was so darkly magical. I made my way through the first floor to the front room, overlooking the water. In the center of the hardwood floor was a huge pentagram in spraypaint and the remnants of a fire. There were marble benches and crystal chandeliers pushed into a pile along one wall. There was a grand staircase as well as what was probably a servant's staircase in the back of the house. I was astounded that a house could have two staircases.

The super skinny tower windows were my favorite vantage point. (photo via East Bay Chamber of Commerce)

Over that summer that back door was often left open and I frequently made it my spooky hideout. At night I brought friends and we sat in the shadows careful not to been seen through the huge floor to ceiling windows in the front room, jumping at the sound of branches hitting the roof or the wind blowing through broken upstairs windows. Each time I went in I left with my pockets filled with treasure; random found objects, crystals from the chandeliers, bits of old tiles from the room with the trefoil window upstairs. We unscrewed the tiny brass arms of the chandelier and fashioned them into tiny pipes, packed tight with hash and smoked, sitting crosslegged on the pentagram and listened for ghosts. Hot summer nights, B&E, daring each other to walk up the grand staircase alone.

The Castle, side view, trefoil window upstairs. This photo (and more including the finished front room - sans pentagram)

Monday, August 4, 2014

{{ Brain Drops Keep Fallin' From My Head }} or, why is my cerebrospinal fluid dripping out of my nose?

I'll start this by saying that I'm making a lot of jokes about this because in reality it's scaring the shit out of me and it's so fucking bizarre that the easiest way to deal so far has been by nervously laughing and making jokes about it. I wanted to write about this because when you google it there's a LOT of scary info that you have to wade through before you find any personal experiences with it. I guess I just want to add mine to the mix, even though I don't have an official diagnosis yet. In early July I started noticing that when I lean forward or turn my head upside down my nose would start dripping like crazy. The first day it happened I thought 'oh great, I'm getting sick' even though I felt completely fine. I waited for cold symptoms to show up but they never did, yet the drippy nose kept up. After about 2 weeks of it happening at least once a day I saw my doctor. (This was after googling it and coming up with some pretty horrific results about cerebrospinal fluid leaks -- literally brain fluid dripping out of your nose). Luckily I was able to show my doctor exactly what was happening and she agreed that while the likelihood of it being a CSF leak was low, there was really no other explanation for why this is happening. Around this time I also started paying attention to exactly how often it was happening (1-2 times a day) and whether it was coming from both sides or just one (just the left side).

My doctor got me a stat referral to an ENT who I saw the following day. The ENT examined the fluid which I easily produced by leaning forward. Odorless, colorless, just like water. (Just like spinal fluid). She looked up into my sinuses with a long scope and said they were wide open and beautiful looking, confirming my assumption that if this were some sort of allergy situation there would be evidence of irritation in my sinuses. The fact that I have no other cold/allergy symptoms is what is concerning, but the good news is that I don't have the debilitating headaches usually associated with CSF leaks. Or is it that I'm just catching it early and I went to knowledgeable doctors? I read that most CSF leaks take over a year to diagnose. Or maybe I just have a small leak? Is a small leak ok to live with? How much brain juice can I spare? I don't really have answers to these questions yet, but hopefully this will all become clear soon. My ENT set me up with a CT scan later this week, and in the meantime I'm collecting the fluid in a little jar that I keep next to a dead hummingbird in my freezer (just in case anyone want to play "who has the most bizarre shit in their freezer" I will win for sure.) They can test the fluid to see if it is in fact spinal fluid, but they need a pretty good amount -- so a few times a day I'm drip-drip-dripping into the jar.

The not-knowing is driving me kind of crazy, but I've been trying not to dwell. Trying not to google this any more, trying not to jump to conclusions. Trying to put phrases like "brain surgery" out of my head. Trying to enjoy this beautiful summer and make the most of it.

Because really - THIS COULD BE NOTHING! - Like I said, the not-knowing is making me crazy.

Sunday, July 20, 2014

Vacation, all I ever wanted...

This is my favorite photo from our recent family vacation. I was going to post it without much comment, but it occurred to me that this is exactly what's wrong with social media. The little, perfect snippets of time with just the right filter applied that paint a picture that is not accurately representative of real life. So paired with this dreamy image I will provide this backstory.

"I think as long as we can laugh about these insane times we'll be all right." ~ Tom

Our history with bad luck vacations started off with a bang with our Honeymoon From Hell. Since then we've had a series of disasters. Well, I take that back, we have always been very good at making the best of it. It's practically the Toupin family motto. Toupins: We Make The Best Of It.

There was the camping vacation that was ruined as we narrowly escaped a band of severe weather en route to our Plan B- a hotel. Then there was the tiny-cabin vacation - which also included pouring rain and made our tiny-cabin feel more like a humid and damp cave. Then there was the other camping vacation when it (surprise!) rained again. Oh and then there was the indoor water park hotel where it didn't really matter that it was pouring rain because we were indoors. But don't think that was too much of a relief since it did fall right on the heels of a major family issue. So our vacations have never been relaxing. At all. Which is the precise reason you take a vacation.

But this recent one? This one takes the cake. It's been a rough year (hence the lack of regular whimsical fuckery posts which was the intention of this blog). Seeing as though things have been so tough we decided we needed, you got it, a nice RELAXING vacation. Hey, let's get crazy and do FOUR NIGHTS/FIVE DAYS. Let's do it right. Fuck yeah. So I booked a sweet looking little lake house in New Hampshire that was pet friendly, just in case we wanted to take the dog. (And now here's a bit of foreshadowing.... PRO TIP: "Pet Friendly" on Airbnb means "smells like cat piss.")

Sunday - the day before vacation
News from mom about dad: Dad's recovery from his triple bypass surgery a few months ago is not going well and he's having a lot of pain in his sternum (y'know the place where they have to saw through to open your ribcage to get at all those pesky clogged arteries in your heart?) He had x-rays done and they are awaiting results to see what's wrong.

Monday morning
While packing the final few items into my car I get a call from a number I don't recognize. I consider ignoring it ("I'm on VACATION, yo!"), but then pick up. Turns out that the mammogram I had the previous week doesn't look so hot. (Spoiler alert: I DON'T HAVE BREAST CANCER!) Areas of "dense tissue" in my right breast are worrisome and they'll need to get more images and possibly an ultrasound. I make an appointment for the following Monday and in the meantime they're going to compare my recent mammo images to a previous one to see if maybe the dense tissue has always been there (in which case I wouldn't need to have more images done). Google results for "dense tissue" seem to produce equal parts reassurance and worry. Determined not to worry until I have something to worry about. Vacation, HO!

Monday afternoon
Arriving in NH we receive news that my dad's x-ray results are worse than expected. It appears that some of the wires holding his sternum together have broken, he'll have to go back up to Mass General for a CT scan and to meet with the surgeon.

When I found out that there was no internet and spotty cell service at the lake house I was happy to be away from that, but now, faced with waiting for news/updates it was unbearable to be so disconnected. I had to drive 10 minutes down the road just to see if I had a message from my mom or my radiologist yet. Finally I get a message from the radiologist that the dense tissue areas are new and that I do need more images. Panicky and over-stressed we decide to go home, I reschedule my appointment for Wednesday (the day that my dad will be going back up to Mass General). This way we can also get our dog (which my mom had been taking care of, but won't be able to Wednesday while she's with my dad at the hospital.) Oh, and also happening at this time? Pouring rain. Pouring rain that's supposed to last until Wednesday night. Fuck it, let's go home. The weather is so bad on the way home and halfway there we get that terrifying alert from the NWS on our phones. TORNADO WARNING - TAKE COVER NOW We just keep driving.

Tuesday night
We arrive home. Exhausted. We collapse.

Wednesday afternoon
I have more mammo images taken (inconclusive) and on to an ultrasound where they quickly rule out any danger. I'm free and clear. Elated, I head home, we repack for NH and get back on the road, this time with the dog. We drive again through the pouring rain. On the way we receive a call from my mom about the results of the CT scan. It turns out that ALL EIGHT of the wires that were holding my dad's sternum together have broken, explaining the tremendous pain he's been feeling. This is without doubt caused by the fact that at the same time that he was supposed to be recovering from this surgery my parents lost their house and had to move/clean out generations worth of junk out and into a tiny apartment. He was not supposed to really be doing anything at this time, but instead he was doing the work of many people. We helped as much as we could, but it was too big of a job for the small team we had. At this point it's too late for his sternum to fuse back together as it's supposed to during the healing. Talks of metal plates and plastic surgery to reposition his pectoral muscles. Another major medical procedure.

Wednesday night
Vacation take 2. Back to the lake house. Exhausted. We collapse.

We have a lovely day (!!!) JUST starting to ease into vacation, really beginning (despite the stress) to relax a little, decide that since we have one day left let's really make it awesome!!

Thursday night
Receive call from mom saying she broke our washing machine.
Then we drink too much tequila.
Exhausted. Stress sleep/nightmares. Finn falls out of bed.

Friday morning
we head home.

I don't know what the moral of this story is, but despite the chaos, stress, terror and worry coming home to hear the news of what's going on in the world helps to put things in perspective. We had a week that was supposed to be relaxing turn into a nerve-freying mess. But I don't have cancer. My dad, despite needing another major surgery, had a heart that's functioning great, Tom rigged the washing machine (I'm sure that's no surprise to anyone that knows him) and above all Finn had a BLAST on vacation.