Etsy Craft Party

After a busy Thursday of paperwork, it was wonderful to end the day with my first Etsy Craft Party!

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The good people at the welcome table were nice enough to write out my name badge for me because I was busy carrying paperwork (see first sentence of this post), girl scout cookies (I finally was able to pick them up from my friend whose little sister a I purchased them from months ago), a delicious Kimchi Taco, and a can of Coca-Cola.

As one woman filled out my name for me, another friendly helper gave me a craft bag and instructions for this year’s craft. The party this year had a theme of giving back to your community, so our community made hand puppets for the Children’s Aid Society.

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They also hand lots of cool stickers for us to take home as souvenirs!

I met up with a friend at the craft party, but I also got to experience a lot of friendly new people at my table. It was nice to see some friendly faces working on a craft and sharing a few supplies and stories along the way. They were a pretty funny bunch too! Who know you could crack jokes about scissors and thread that are actually funny?

I didn’t make it to the very beginning of the party, so I wasn’t able to stay long enough to see the team of sewing machine volunteers stich my puppet together (I’m pretty bummed about that) but I did take a few pictures of the embroidery I did, so you can get an idea of what it looks like as an almost-finished-product.

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This was very fun and I love the cause! I can’t wait for more Etsy parties in the future!

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Funemployment Summer Reading: The Crooked Banister

I was at a book fair with one of my friends from college this past weekend when she remarked that there was something special about reading books as a kid that adult novels have not been able to recapture.

While we both still enjoy reading, we have both shifted our focuse more toward nonfiction. Even when we do dive into fiction books, the experience is not as captivating or inviting as the ones that raised us through elementary school and early adolescence. Something about those books seemed both thrilling and comforting. To me, they were fodder for ideas.

As I continue my full-time job of finding a job, I’ve also decided to reread some of the books that were so good to me as a kid. I’m not much for rereading books (except for a select few VERY favorites) so this will be an interesting challenge for me. Also, I can’t remember too much about some of these books except that I loved them, so this will be a great chance for me to rediscover them.

I’m convinced that they still have something to teach me.

I’m starting this process off with one of my favorite book series: The Nancy Drew Mystery Stories.

My parents read me the yellow-spined “flash light series” before I was old enough to read on my own, and I picked up the series as soon as I was able to. I read the series all through childhood, but I think the peak for Nancy &  me was in the first and second grades. I used to pretend that reading these books was my detective training for when I would one day be old enough to also be an amateur teen sleuth.

I occupied my time by solving “The Mystery of the Missing Pencil” or “The Secret of Where Mom Left Her Glasses” but none of these were nearly as exciting as Nancy’s escapades.

My favorite books in the series were usually the quirky ones. Like ones where someone was pretending to be a ghost (The Mystery at Lilac Inn) or busy conducting seances (The Ghost of Blackwood Hall) or anything that had some kind of “enchanted” item (The Clue of the Dancing Puppet).

I had to stop reading the books when I got to a certain age and noticed that they were rather formulaic and everyone seemed way to interested in answering Nancy’s questions. I think I used to chalk it up to people being friendlier in a safer time, but with all of these “swindlers” flying around it became harder for me to accept the glad hands that pepper these pages…a.k.a. my inner cynic was developing too quicky for Nancy Drew to keep up.

Nevertheless, Nancy Drew has always had a very special place in my heart.

And I have to say that this book totally captivated me. This story is spooky and enthralling in the way that a campfire story is. [Actually, if someone would like to rattle off a few Nancy Drew plotlines to me as I roast some marshmellows, I would be more than okay with that.]

It’s thrilling and dangerous, but Nancy and her friends are always looking out for each other and have some kind of helping hand from her father or other friendly adult. And that’s what made these books so perfect to read as a kid. I never doubted Nancy’s capabilities (and I still don’t. This girl is a BAMF and that more than holds up over time) but I felt good knowing that people were looking out for her.

I selected The Crooked Banister mostly because of the robot on the cover and the promise of a romp through a house that looks like it was designed by someone on a particularly interesting acid trip.

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Cover via Amazon

Things start off like a lot of Nancy’s mysteries. Her dad asks her to help out on one of his legal cases. Nancy’s skill level is so great that she can totally handle the case AND saves her dad a ton of money in hiring an investigator because she enjoys the work so much that she always works for free even when she isn’t helping the family out.

This time Nancy’s dad asks her to help her find a con man who also happens to have a really crazy looking house. Since Nancy Drew stories move pretty quickly (action packed is an understatement), Nancy goes to check out the house in the second chapter of the book and is attacked by this homicidal robot that lives in the kitchen.

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I loved these pictures as a kid.
I would often skim the pictures when trying to decide which book to read next and based upon which one had the most fantastic image, I would go from there.
This is a pretty good Nancy-Drew-Selection-Method, I think because I used it again as a twenty-something to decide to read this one for this blog post.

Nancy’s dad usually can’t stick around due to his busy law practice and The Crooked Banister is no expection. That’s all for the best though because it means her friends Bess and George can help her out.

Bess and George are cousins/polar-opposite archetypes and they help her out literally almost all of the time, but Nancy’s always excited when they’re able to work it out to follow her to some other town to decipher some bizzare happenings.

As a burgeoning feminist (before I even knew the word) I liked all of these girls for the following reasons:

—Bess is dainty and likes girly things, which I could always identify with. She’s chubby but George is literally the only one who makes an issue of it and really that’s because they’re polar-opposite archetypes who have to maintain a balance by harassing one another in a loving way. She’s usually anxious, but considering that Nancy and George were always willing to run into abandoned warehouses with shifty looking men, I think that Bess needed to be paranoid just to give them some semblance of a reality check. She also overcomes all of these fears in an instant when Nancy or George is like literally about to die, which makes her all the cooler. I mean, I would assume that Nancy or George would run into a burning building for the fun of it. But the fact that Bess does it because she cares is kind of heartwarming.

—George doesn’t conform to gender norms…another phrase I was not aware of but still appreciated the concept behind. She always helps the boys when they have to tackle some intruder and she even has a boy’s name. I grew up almost entirely around boys and always felt like a radical girl child when I would go to Toys R Us with my dad and ask for the chemistry set instead of the cool girl toy. From what I remember the chemistry set also made some kind of edible toxic-waste colored jello and now I’d kind of like to play with it again…

—Nancy is a general awesome creature and obviously too cool to be real. But I admired her as one admires a character in Greek mythology. She’s super educated and not just in the traditional stuff that one would learn from normal schools. She knows things like smoke signals and morse code and not because she’s a girl scout but because she’s just that observant and wants to learn everything she can from every single random situation she’s been in.

I never found it annoying that Nancy is flawless. She was always flawless in a kind of “work hard and you can attain this kind of way.” I may not be a super sleuth but I do think she encouraged me in some way to solve my own life’s little mysteries.

But now back to the story, Bess and George are there for like two seconds before Nancy’s boyfriend, Ned, and his friends, Burt and Dave, join them. I always loved when all of them worked together because it felt like Scooby Doo. There was not talking dog, unfortunately, but I felt like Bess took on the roll of both Shaggy and Scooby because she was always afraid to do almost any detective work.

As things play out, it becomes clear that this swindler is not only involved in selling people property that he does not own, but also that he’s involved in some kind of scam that suckers people into giving money to Navajo children on a reservation in Arizona. It turns out that these kids actually do exist but obviously have never seen any of the money.

This book was written in the early ’70’s when society was finally like “hey, maybe we should care about those people we screwed out of their land” and I appreciate that the ghostwriters over at Grosset & Dunlap decided to incorporate the message that exploiting people–especially those who have already been exploitied repeatedly–is super not acceptable. I may have wanted to be a private investigator as a six year old, but I grew up to be a social worker, so I like this element of the stories even more now. The Navajo characters are pretty stereotypical but so are most of the background characters in Nancy Drew Stories, so I’ll give them a break.

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Back in the crazy-house we discover that the swindler really hated his extended family and blacked out all of their faces on their portraits.
My favorite part of this picture is that he left all of their facial hair and glasses intact.

The evidence to prove all of these cons is, of course, in the ridiculous house. In order to uncover it, Nancy and friends have to climb over a firey moat by making a human chain over a dilapedated bridge. Additionally, Nancy gets her hand caught in a revolving-secret-passage-bookcase and–with the brute force of man twice her size–uses a heavy book and her weaker arm to bash in the side of the bookcase and save herself from a very unfortunate amputation. Finally, the mystery comes to a head when George and Burt crash through a wall because they slid down the staircase banister at warp speed.

Luckily, they sustain no injuries and their misadventure actually causes them to find all of the loot. (See what I mean? Scooby Doo!)

But even though Nancy has proven time and again that she is not only super strong, but also clever and cunning, there are still haters:

Nancy 1Jokes on them though because that probably was the headline of the River Heights newspaper since the teenage girl did capture the con man. All out of the goodness of her heart and compulsive love of a mystery.

How to Make a Hand-painted Book Cover (Also Applicable for Wrapping Paper)

First of all, this post involves no actual wrapping paper. But I think you could use this method to make your own wrapping paper because you essentially are “wrapping” book board in order to make the cover of a book. So I’m thinking you could also wrap a box? Maybe? I haven’t tried it, so see for yourself.

The first thing  you’ll need for this is some medium weight drawing paper. You could use another type of paper at your own risk, but I can recommend some good old fashioned drawing paper and medium weight should be able to take the paint.

Cut your paper to be slightly larger than your two pieces of book board (or whatever it is than you’re covering). An extra inch on each side should give you plenty of room to work with.

Now you’re ready to paint! Cover your paper with your base colors. I use acrylic paint but you could try craft paint as well (though I would suggest acrylic paint because of its flexibility).

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Once your base color dries, you can go ahead and add the detailing. If you haven’t cut your paper in half yet (I didn’t cut mine until the last step but you can do it either way), then find the middle point of your paper so you can work on both the “front cover” and “back cover.”

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I free-handed blue dots on my “back cover” and drew out a sailboat (though it’s kind of hard to see it) before I painted it.

Once you’ve finished painting, you’ll need to cover it with a sealant, so that you can protect your paint from the elements and general wear & tear. I used matte ModPodge to paint a thin layer over my design. Once this dries enough not to smudge or stick to anything, you’ll need to flatten the paper out under book or other heavy object.

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After that, you’re ready to cover your book board or wrap whatever item you wanted to cover in your very own wrapping paper! The texture of the paper after this should be almost like a lightweight vinyl, so it’s pretty easy to manipulate.

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Historical Fiction v. Historical Document: An 8 year-old’s Perspective

I read this book the summer after 2nd grade and I didn’t realize that it was fiction because I was under the impression that scholastic “discovered” girls diaries and then edited and published them (to be fair the series only had like 5 books then instead of 30 so this seemed much more plausible). Not to mention the fact that the author’s name was NOT on the cover–a first for me.

The Item In Question:

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Anyway, long story short I sent a letter to Scholastic asking if they had any information on “Hattie Campbell” from the book because we shared the same family name and I was curious if we might possibly be from the same lineage. To further compound the confusion, I actually had a relative named Hattie and a relative named Wade (just like two of the main characters in the book). Any actual understanding of genealogy, however, would have told me that even if this wasn’t a work of fiction they could not have been connected to MY Wade and Hattie, but then again I was eight.

Of course, no one in my family at all deterred me from doing this. In fact, they encouraged me. My parents were probably too excited that their eight year-old wanted to write to a publisher to explain to me the difference between fictitious diaries and historical documents. And then like a year later I saw the disclaimer at the back of the book saying that it’s a work of fiction and I was totally and utterly embarrassed because I had written to a major publishing company “on Broadway!” nonetheless.

Finally, I had the explanation for why I had never received a response to my inquiry. They never ever wrote me back even to break it to me gently that there was no actual Hattie Campbell. In my adult years, I feel like that was unfair because it is a children’s publishing company and if there is a child who is trying to research her family’s roots then you at least owe her the courtesy of telling her that she might want to try some public records. I don’t care to listen to reason or consider the fact that they may have been inundated with actual business correspondence. I’d like to think that I would never be too busy to drop a quick note to a confused child who mistakenly believed a book my company published somehow linked back to her ancestor. I’m grateful for the experience though because it makes for a fun story. It was always one of my favorite books growing up and I absolutely cherish to this day, so when I found this hellogiggles article it was totally fun to see the book again!

If you’d like to relieve your childhood reading days, check out “A 20-something Rereads ‘Across the Wide and Lonesome Prairie’ by Heather Taylor here:

http://www.hellogiggles.com/a-20-something-rereads-the-dear-america-series-across-the-wide-and-lonesome-prairie

Bragging Rights

Okay, okay maybe it’s not the best way to start off a blog with a little bragging, but I’m really proud of myself so I’m going to do it anyway. I really killed it this year with Mother’s Day. I’m a classic “card and take you out to lunch” kind of gal, but this year I was struck with a rather brilliant idea.

When I was a little girl, my mom used to tell me stories. As in elaborate-multi-parted-hours-long stories that would span the length of our road trips. Probably the best story she ever told came about when I was in the first grade. It turned out that she had been writing a little bit each night until she had a full length story about a little girl growing up with her grandmother after her mother dies. The plot was comprised of these lovely little vignettes about small town life and every day encounters contributing to the protagonist’s personal growth. She even wrote some songs to go along with the story and soon every teacher at my elementary school was asking her to read it to their classes. Everyone told her she should publish, but unfortunately she never did. So I decided to do it for her. Kind of.

I used MyPublisher, which I think is mostly for photo books but they had a storyteller layout that was perfect for this, and added “photos” from illustrations (mostly collages) that I added to the text of her story. The MyPublisher software isn’t great, but their customer service is, so I would definitely use them again. Plus, the final product looked really good and my mom got to open a package with a bookstore quality version of the story she had written decades ago.

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This page pictured above is my favorite and includes a lullaby that my mom used to sing to me when I was a baby.

This was a really cool project for me to do for my mom and it’s definitely a gift idea that I will never be able to top! I also think that this would be a great project for people with kids. I know in elementary school we got to make our own books using drawings that our teachers would ship off to an independent publisher somewhere. But nowadays this is something that parents and children could easily do at home together. Anyone with a scanner and basic computer literacy could totally pull this off. I can recommend MyPublisher but I’m sure there are other good ones out there too that I haven’t tried. I for one can say I would have loved to make a picture book like this as a kid…well and even now 🙂