Thursday, December 15, 2011

Giftmaking, redux (part 2 of 4)

Hmm, let's see now, what all did we get up to that day.... Well.

Well, we did make jigsaw puzzles. That was really fun. This is a project that I flat-out stole from Jack McKee's great book, "Woodshop for Kids" (lots and LOTS of great project ideas in there, and handy info on teaching kids to use tools wisely and well, too). I cut a puzzle 'blank' out of thin plywood and they sawed that blank all to bits with the coping saw. And then put those bits back together, painted them up, and voila! Homemade wooden puzzle, quite nice.

We also whipped up some peppermint creams, which was a recipe that I also scavenged from the amazing cookbook, River Cottage Family Cookbook (LOVE this book and all the amazing photos... so inspiring and enticing!). They're awesome because you're really essentially making ultra sweet peppermint edible playdough... which then dries into a melt-in-your-mouth little treat.
Peppermint Creams
2 c. powdered sugar
1 egg white
Peppermint essence
A few drops of cooking oil
Green food coloring (optional)

Mix up the sugar and egg white and peppermint and food coloring, if using... you will probably have to resort to squishing it together with your hands in the end, 'til all becomes a cohesive blob. Add powdered sugar as needed so that it's no longer sticking to your hands, but is easy to mold and work with, like play dough. You can then roll out the dough and use a tiny cookie cutter or jar lid to cut into nice little bite-sized uniform pieces, or you can just let the kids mold them into whatever shapes they want... which is what I did. They didn't look as pretty but believe me, they still got eaten. Rub a few drops of oil onto the piece of wax paper you have lined your cookie sheet with for easy removal.

We then dipped them in chocolate, which I had melted in this little crockpot. Optional of course, and I think this crockpot runs a little hot because the chocolate, by the time we got to it, was not smoothy, shiny, and looking forward to coating our delicious little treats, but rather in a more chunky, hard to work with state.... I shan't be using that crockpot for projects such as this again.

We also made fizzy bath salts, which I didn't manage to capture a photo of, but they are always a guaranteed hit and much easier to make than fizzy bath bombs, I believe.

There's lots of recipes out there, but here's the one that I like:

Fizzy Bath Salts
4 c. epsom salts
2 c. baking soda
1 c. citric acid
40 drops of essential oil ( I used pine tree and lavender, for a kind of holidays/ decompression blend)
food coloring optional

The food coloring might not show up in the mix, (and don't add too much, or the liquid will 'activate' the citric acid and the whole thing will fizz up and any fizzy action at a later date will be lost) but it will color the water when it goes into the bath. What could a parent or a teacher want MORE than a mix that will magically turn their bath into a fizzing purple whirlpool? Quite fun. Citric acid can be a little hard to find, but it is sometimes found in the kosher section of the supermarket as sour salt, and I also have seen it in the bulk spice section of our local gourmet grocery, Central Market.

Have fun, intrepid gifters~ more coming soon!

Sunday, December 11, 2011

A visit with Stefanie diStefano and FlamingO Ranch!

Our artisan field trip class also had the wondrous good fortune to discover the Austin treasure trove that is FlamingO Ranch and it's proprietor, Ms. Stefanie DiStefano. I had seen some work of hers around town and was amazed to discover that she is a protegee of Isiah Zagar... one of my all time heroes after visiting Philadelphia Magic Gardens a few years ago. Stefanie also turned me on to this FEE.NOM.EENULL. documentary about Isiah, In A Dream... made by his son, Jeremiah... if you want to ruminate about life, love, family, and most of all art, please watch it. I found it to be totally amazing.

Anyway, can you dig it? I rubbed shoulders with someone who knows this guy (that I admire so very very much)very very well! Celebrity alert! And her ranch is a wonderland. It had the same immersive, provocative quality that this crazy place Buffet Flat had on me as a kid.... as if you were walking into the heart of someone's brain. I hope (and have little doubt) that it was an electric, never-to-be-forgotten experience for the kids who came with us.

And we even got to make a mosaic with her! Hot-cha!

Wednesday, December 7, 2011

Giftmaking, redux (part 1 of 4)

I've been positively remiss in updating this poor dusty and neglected little blog, so if you've been eagerly awaiting the next chapter in my misbegotten journey, I apologize sincerely that I've kept you in a state of unbearable anticipation and irritable agitation.

It's really just been more of the same bla, bla, bla, repeating some of the classes that I have written about in detail on here before so I didn't think it was really worthwhile to write about it all over again. But then it occurred to me that I am rather proud at how my gift making class has evolved... it's a smidge better and more stream-lined than it was four years ago when I started ( can it really have been four years? Crikey!).

I'm sure I'm preaching to the choir here when I say that gift making is just cool. I really like to be part of shifting consciousness from getting to making and giving. Making is probably more fun in the long run, anyway.

I'll try to keep up with this and tell you all my ideas that we've been using in my giftmaking class over the next few weeks, just in brief. These ideas are pretty tried and true and I think I've whittled them down to the ones that are the most fun/easy/engaging and that are actually quite nice on the receiving end, as well. So, here we go:
  • Beeswax candles. I have a crockpot that I got from the thrift store which is reserved strictly for wax. This is SO much easier and better than trying to do it in a double boiler on the stove, esp. when you're doing it with kids and you need to get the wax down on their level. We made container candles... one is just a little mason jar with a wick in it. I actually taped four chopsticks together and then attached them onto a metal measuring cup so the kids could dip into the wax from a bit of a distance. A crowd of excited kids jostling around a pot of hot wax can sometimes end badly. Just sayin'. Also I had been using a plastic measuring cup and the fool thing completely melted into a misshapen plastic glob! Lesson learned. Oh yes, and the other container candles are poured into a gigantic acorn cap, from the giganto acorn bearing tree, the Burr Oak. I love these but have also learned the hard way not to fool around, and to use these as a centerpiece for your autumnal table ONLY when they are floating in a bowl of water. It's quite beautiful. But they can turn into fireballs otherwise (although we do all love fireballs, there's no denying). I need to find some more good wax projects. Kids really seem to get fascinated in exploring wax. I get a little tetchy because my beeswax is on the expensive side, but I should get some cheaper stuff so they could explore a la this project by Teacher Tom.
  • Dried flower centerpiece. This has been super easy and the kids actually LOVE it. We saw segments off of fallen branches we have lying around (pecan, crepe myrtle, anything really) and then let them drill holes in it wherever they'd like. I had a bunch of dried flowers and little pussywillow branches that my friend from Austin Ikebana had given me so they worked perfectly for this project. Dried grasses would also be nice and very zen.
  • In the blue-topped upcycled container we have cocoa mix. I use this recipe from Alton Brown. I actually think it's really really good. Kids say thumbs-up as well.
  • Lastly, we have made mosquito repellent in the blue bottle. Austin has been so warm this fall, mosquito repellent still comes in handy. This is an all natural recipe and it seems to work pretty well. It definitely is good for soothing bites, because witch hazel is all about that. The recipe I have been using is just kind of a mishmash from different recipes I have read about on the web. Here it is:
'The Bugs Don't Have a Chance" (product name by Max, age 10)
Scant 1/4 c. vinegar
1/2 c. witch hazel
8 drops eucalyptus essential oil
4 drops geranium essential oil
8 drops citronella or lemongrass essential oil
4 drops cinnamon essential oil
You can most definitely sub in other essential oils for these, there's lots of smells that bugs (supposedly) don't like.

So anyway, there you go, Quite nice, tune in again soon because I may just might have a healthy shake of new ideas for you (for once), actually.

Sunday, November 6, 2011

Print making with artist Cathy Savage!

Man, my artisan field trip class passed by in a flash... all six weeks of it. This was my third time leading this class... it's been pretty much a dream come true because I enjoy nothing more than getting to scope out inner sanctums where real artists do their thing (which is why I love E.A.S.T. so much). Just one more thing to love about Austin... how many amazing artists were willing to open their doors to a bunch of wily kids and let us lay our hands on all their special things. These photos are from a visit with Cathy Savage and Carolyn Kimball at Women Printmakers of Austin. They did gelatin printmaking with us... it was really fun and amazing, and such fine and detailed prints were achieved. Would be easy to do at home, too, here's a little more info about how to do it.

Wednesday, November 2, 2011

Tinkering class grande finale... homemade carnival!

6 weeks of work culminated yesterday in one scrappy little handmade fall festival. A high striker, fishing pond, roller coaster, food stand, and ball toss... and oh yes, human hamster wheel races.

Pretty darn fun. We enjoyed it.

Tuesday, October 18, 2011

The beginnings of a roller coaster...

... in tinkering class today. It was pretty cool. More to be done, but still cool. It's amazing... when Gever Tulley came to Austin, in one of his talks he said that tinkering with kids almost always, in his experience, follows the model of the hero's journey, which is a basic pattern that almost any blockbuster (or otherwise) Hollywood movie (or otherwise) follows.... the hero/ine is introduced, things are going well until SOMETHING GOES TERRIBLY WRONG and he/she spends the rest of the film/novel/comic book/magazine article overcoming seemingly insurmountable obstacles until there is a FINAL AMAZING TRIUMPH at the end (think Star Wars). I am so glad that he mentioned this because it really gives me the wherewithal to just keep on truckin' through the sticky part in the middle, that always seems to happen when we're trying to tinker with kids. If I didn't have this now deeply embedded into my consciousness I might give up a lot more readily but as it stands luckily I have managed (so far) to roll with the punches and have found(at least a few times) the sweet sweet tinkering triumph that lies on the other side. Every single time we've had a tinkering class or camp our first day usually goes well, then we (or I, at least) go completely deep into the weeds for a few sessions and it just feels like nothing is ever going to come together and that it's all a total DISASTER.... and then, VOILA, it really DOES come together, and we (I mean I ) weep salty tears of relief and joy. And makes me feel like it all might be worth doing, after all.

It takes faith, this tinkering thing, it surely does! And a big ol' failure-postive attitude, too...

Sunday, October 9, 2011

Marble-track building on a rainy Saturday... quite a glorious way to spend a rainy Saturday. Inspired by the brilliant folks over at Filth Wizardry.