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Saturday, October 31, 2015

Halloween 2015: Italian Restaurant

Benvenuti! Welcome to my Italian Restaurant. Mangia! Eat up!

I’m not quite sure how this costume idea came into my mind, but a few months ago it crept into my imagination and set up a nest there. Here is my initial sketch:


Here is how the costume turned out. Unlike some of my past Halloween costumes, I can sit down in this one if I need to. Apparently I've learned from my past design mistakes!

I did use real garlic, dried pasta and red pepper flakes on this costume. But everything else I made from felt, yarn, paint, and hot glue:

Vegetarian or meat lovers? 


This costume idea appealed to me on various levels. I like Italian food and have wonderful memories of living in Florence when I was twenty-one. In my mid-twenties I worked as a hostess at an Italian restaurant here in San Diego’s Little Italy. This helped supplement my very modest income as a starving artist. Note to all young artists out there: if you supplement your earnings by working in a restaurant, make sure it’s as good as the one where I worked. Great food, and lots of spirited arguments in Italian amongst the five brothers who owned the place. Even arguments and insults in Italian sound beautiful. The language is lyrical and there’s so much life in it.

Of course, being me, I liked the idea of bringing some humor to a costume. Wearing food is inherently funny. Having the pizza slice nearly falling off the table, and a plate of spaghetti on my head—well, I couldn’t resist the chance to wear something that I thought would make people laugh.

I’m sure I’ve made you hungry with my costume. You’re welcome. Buon appetito.

Hope you have a happy, fun-filled Halloween.

Just one more thing…





Wednesday, October 28, 2015

Wacky Wednesday #29: Halloween Mascot

Every Wednesday I wear a costume I’ve made during the week, and today is no exception. Even if the biggest costume day of the year is in a mere three days. I’m making a separate costume for Halloween, as well as helping at the giant carnival where my older two kids go to school. Did I think that making two costumes from scratch inside of four days sounded like a lot? Yes, actually! So I decided that today’s outfit could have elements from other Halloween seasons. Today’s costume doesn’t involve quite as much sewing and gluing and prep as some of my weekly creations have, but people, I am only human!


This shirt is one I made a year ago. Buttons add some fun texture to any clothing item, I say. I did make my tutu this week. It’s the first tutu I’ve attempted and I’m happy with how it turned out. There is something delightful about wearing a tutu as a grown up. It instantly puts me in a playful mood and my Wacky Wednesdays are about being playful and lighthearted. Tutus are easy to make and to customize (with lots of tutorials online, whether you want to use a sewing machine, as I did, or whether you prefer a no sew approach).

Rounding out my costume are some Halloweenish accessories. I made these jack o' lantern earrings a year ago. Yesterday I made the antennae and attached them to my headband. So that’s all, folks. A Halloweenish Wednesday costume to get everyone in the mood for costumes on Oct. 31st.


Halloween is extra festive this year, as it falls on a Saturday and (in theory) we can stay up all night in our costumes. In reality, I have a feeling I will not stay up all night. This mom has been racing through the hamster’s wheel this month, just trying to get things ready for Oct. 31st. My head will hit the pillow before midnight, I am certain, and my golden carriage will turn back into a pumpkin--Wait, am I mixing up stories here? Like Cinderella, I will be back from the ball trick-or-treating before the clock strikes twelve. I won’t be leaving behind any glass slipper. I will fall, face first, into bed and sleep happily ever after. Or however the story goes…


Wednesday, October 21, 2015

Wacky Wednesday #28: Pine cones

I’m declaring it here and now: pinecones will be the it accessory this holiday season. Don’t know what to wear to the company party? Pearls too traditional for you? Worried that your scarf might land in your wine glass? The solution: a festive pine cone.

Let’s examine the pros and cons of pine cone accessories:


1.      They’re free.

2.      They show that you appreciate nature.

3.      They have texture and depth.

4.      You can embellish them any way you want, so you’ll have a unique accessory.

5.      They’re a good conversation starter.


1.      They can poke you or whomever you are dancing with or hugging.

2.      They may snag your sweater.

3.      They’re heavier than most accessories.

4.      They may not adhere to dress codes in particularly snazzy or uptight establishments.

You see? The pros clearly outweigh the cons.

Surprisingly, this blog post has roots that go back two years. I was at a spot where pine trees grow, and I noticed that a clump of pine cones had fallen off the tree above. What, pine cones grew in clumps? Who knew? Certainly not me. I grew up in Southern California, which mostly has palm trees and Eucalyptus (no, they aren’t indigenous to this area but believe me, they’re everywhere here). There were a few pine trees where I grew up but it’s not like I lived in a forest. So when I picked up this clump of cones two years ago I was a surprised to see cones clustered densely. I decided to take the clump home. Fast forward two years and I’m making accessories from pine cones—the same clump I picked up that day under the pine tree.

I’m going to share a brief science lesson here for a minute. (Stay with me.) I actually should be calling these cones “conifer cones” but I’m used to saying pine cone so I’m going to stick with that.

The individual projections on a pine cone are called scales. Their arrangement is no accident. The scales grow in a logarithmic spiral—in other words, it’s a spiral that continues to grow at a specific rate. Each spiral is double the width of the previous curve. Check out this diagram:


I’m sure you’ve noticed that there are lots of interesting geometric patterns and spirals in nature. They’re in Nautilus shells, rose petals, branching plants, Romanesco broccoli, pineapples, artichokes and sunflowers, among others.  

Long ago, a mathematician named Fibonacci discovered that there is a formula that applies to the formation of many things in nature. He noticed that the spacing of things like pine cone scales follows an ever-increasing spiral. His findings are called the Fibonacci Sequence.

Some pinecones have a distinct spiral at their base, whereas on other cones it’s less obvious. My idea for turning pine cones into accessories gained steam when I painted the scales of a pine cone and saw the spiral clearly. The scales are positioned so that there is a clockwise spiral pattern as well as a counterclockwise spiral pattern. See what I mean?


Anyway, I decided that pinecones would make fun and unusual accessories. Painting them in bright colors adds a lot of whimsy. Here is a photo of what my project looked like before I made the cones into a necklace. They look like Easter eggs, I’d say:
Today, after wearing my accessories for six or seven hours it dawned on me that my pine cones are a little reminiscent of Frida Kahlo’s accessories. She often wore something on her head, usually something colorful, whether it was flowers, fabric or ribbons. It was an unintentional reference, but I like the common thread with Kahlo, an artist who was bold and produced a lot of colorful self-portraits. In a way, that’s what I create each week: colorful self-portraits.

Back to pinecones. Did you know that they come in very tiny sizes, too? I made them into earrings this week. Check out how adorable these teeny, tiny pine cones are:

I didn’t have any jumbo cones on hand. But in case you’re wondering which tree produces the biggest cones, it is the Coulter pine. This tree’s cones can be up to 15.7 “ long and 11 pounds when fresh. My costumes sometimes are uncomfortable, but I might have to draw the line at an eleven pound pine cone atop my head.
Thanks for joining me for another edition of Science meets Sarah. Will you join me next Wednesday for more fun? I’ll take care of the wackiness. All you have to do is show up.
Creatively yours,


Wednesday, October 14, 2015

Wacky Wednesday # 27: Checkers

The game of Checkers has some competition these days. That thing you’re glued to right this minute—the computer—has changed how people play games. (Well, it’s changed a lot of things, but today we’re talking about leisure activities.) I suspect that Checkers has taken a hit in popularity since the arrival of Candy Crush, Minecraft and a zillion other games played on phones, tvs and computers. Poor Checkers. Let’s get back to basics today and pay a little attention to a game that requires no software, no electricity, and no screen. All it takes is a flat surface and two players. Let’s get our Checkers on!
Here’s the close-up of my hat:

Let me clarify my comment about technology. I like using machines as much as the next person, and technology has its place. If not for machines, this blog would have to be delivered to you by carrier pigeon. But there’s something charming about settling down with a board game, or drawing a giant hopscotch on the sidewalk. Monopoly. Hula hoops. Activities that don’t involve machines. Back to basics. Today’s Checkers costume reconnects me with games from my childhood.

Would you like to know how I made this outfit? I cut up some cardboard boxes to make my game board. I painted the board red, then cut black squares out of construction paper. The round game pieces are made from cardboard, too. I attached flat strips of magnets to the back of them (as well as to the board) so that the pieces could move. (However, once I started walking, some of the pieces would not stay put, so I hot glued a number of them to the board. I was a little disappointed that I would not be able to get people to actually play with this set, but it was a bigger priority to have my costume stay put. A word about the strips of magnets I tried to use. For another purpose they would be great. I like that these strips are so lightweight, unlike regular magnets. I like that you can cut as big or as little of a piece as you need. The strip was only $3 after using the coupon at my local craft store.) You can see how thin this strip of magnet is:


My hat is made of oversized checkers pieces (made from paper plates) because a fun hat always adds a lot. Earrings? Yes, I made them from cardboard, as well.


In truth, it’s been years since I’ve played Checkers. We have a set here at home. And of course, now I have a wearable set. But why stop here? Maybe this could start a whole new wave of games you can wear. Anyone with me?!

Thanks for taking a trip down memory lane with me. I liked reconnecting with a game I played as a child. As I was cutting cardboard and pondering this board game, I realized that Checkers teaches kids to plan ahead a few moves. This game teaches strategy. It teaches turn-taking. This activity isn’t just fun—it has lessons hidden in it too. (Shhh, don’t tell the kids).

Now, enough of this chitter-chatter. Back to our Checkers game. It’s your move.


Wednesday, October 7, 2015

Wacky Wednesday #26: Bird of Paradise

I have a love-hate relationship with bird of paradise plants. Years ago I blogged about the toils of trimming one of these plants. For some reason, I decided to trim this plant by hand, with hedge clippers. It took hours and my forearms were sore for days. But hundreds of cuts later, the plant was trimmed down to 3" at its base. I had won the battle.
The thing is, though, the plant seems to be winning the war. The bird of paradise in our backyard is back. It’s bigger than ever--eight feet in diameter--crowding neighboring plants out of the way with its beaks.
And yet I am conflicted. This is a beautiful plant. Its petals are full of saturated color: bright orange contrasting with deep purplish-blue. The flower is such an unusual shape, with its pointy petals. The blossoms really do look like birds’ heads, which is fun. I decided this plant would make a fun subject for a costume. Here’s what I came up with:

Below is a close up of one of the flowers I made for my hat:

I already had a green skirt to use, and I created the flowers from fabric and pipe cleaners in my sewing stash. I did spend $2 for the shirt (thrifted), but everything else I used was already on hand.

I wore my costume to my kids’ schools, to stores and around town. People’s reactions gave me an interesting glimpse into the ongoing man-woman-Venus-Mars debate. Today, a bunch of men asked me what my costume was about. The women I passed generally knew that these flowers are birds of paradise. I was honestly surprised how many men didn’t know this flower. Here in San Diego there are bird of paradise plants on every block. They’re everywhere. Plus, its name is easy to remember so I thought everyone knew what it is called. Apparently not, so this seems to be a learning opportunity—for me. I will try not to make so many assumptions about plants (or other things) I think everyone knows.

Want to know a little bit of trivia about this plant? It is native to South Africa. The plant is very drought-tolerant. I should know—ours grew back with a vengeance with absolutely no water or encouragement from me. Birds of paradise are associated with liberty, magnificence and good perspective.

It was fun to wear my hat today because it casts quite a dramatic shadow. I think the shadow of my flowers looks a lot like the shadows of the actual plant.

Well, our lesson on birds of paradise needs to draw to a close. I have 1,000 things to do before bed so my birds and I are off. Thanks for reading. We’ll see you next Wednesday with more creative fun…

Saturday, October 3, 2015

Animal Instincts

Today in Sarah’s Biology Class we will be discussing animal instincts.

The lesson will be based on science and fact. Very loosely based. There will be anecdotes, questions and jokes. Again, not an ultra scientific exploration of animals down to their very DNA. A fun mish mosh of science meets Sarah. Shall we begin?

There have been many scientific moments in my life and household of late, which meant a blog post was inevitable. In order of appearance, here are the scientific questions and observations that have emerged:

1)      Why is there a toy Smurf in the refrigerator?

Smurfs may be known by their scientific classification, Smurfus Invisibilitatae. They have the unique ability to become invisible when their main predator, Gargamel (an evil wizard), sneaks too close to their habitat. Smurfs live communally in a group of hollowed-out mushrooms. Within the colony is one dominant leader who helps to organize all the worker Smurfs. The leader’s scientific name is Smurfus Paternus. Common name: Papa Smurf. He is differentiated from the workers, whose coloring is blue and white. Smurfus Paternus is identified by his blue and red coloration.


2)      Mom, do crickets have brains?

Excellent question, posed by my youngest child. I settled in to offer this answer: I don’t know, but if they do, it’s not very big and they can’t make decisions the way we humans can. The cricket question likely was developed in response to the high frequency of cricket visits in our house this summer. Approximately once per night, one of my kids yelled that a cricket had been spotted and that the cricket catcher (me) should report to the area of the sighting—STAT—with jar in hand. Once upon a time I was not a fan of crickets. They look like cockroaches and startled me when I saw them, so at first I was leery. At some point I became used to crickets and we got a little routine going, in which I’d tiptoe up to the cricket, and with one swift (expert) move, capture it in a jar. Then I’d say something along these lines of, “Okay, cricket. Out you go. You know the rules. People inside the house. Crickets outside. Nighty night.”


3)      Spiders are suddenly taking over my neighborhood.

A few days ago, on my morning walk, I noticed four or five gigantic, spooky spiders in my neighborhood. I wish I could say they were Halloween decorations but alas, they were real. They are the kind with a body as big as a gumball and webs the size of a hula hoop. Eek. These big bruisers apparently need a lot of attention, for they set up webs where all the scaredy-cat humans (me) can see them. Their creepy legs move fast, which adds to the spooky factor, because when you see them, you can’t help but think, “That thing is fast. I’d better start running now. I have a fifteen foot lead but I think he could catch up to me and scuttle up my body. HELP!”

4)      Fighting like cats and dogs.

Yesterday morning I became an unexpected referee in an animal fight. I was walking home, past a cat I’ve seen a zillion times. It’s an orange cat we call “Garfield” and he lives at one of the houses I pass every day. Sometimes he hangs out at its neighbors’ front yards. I was walking west and a woman walking a dog was walking east. Our paths were about to cross the spot where Garfield sat, head up and alert, watching over his sidewalk like a sphinx guarding a pyramid. Suddenly, the cat lunged at the dog. The dog lunged back. The dog walker tightened the leash and she and I both said with authority, “No, cat!” The other woman and I both used our feet to nudge the cat back (no kicking was involved, it was just a little nudge). Again the cat charged. Again the feet tried to separate the animals. This all happened within ten seconds or so. I suppose it was my animal instinct that took over, rather than a well-thought-out separation strategy. The dog walker managed to pull her dog down the block and I said sternly to the cat, “You’re staying here, cat,” and I stayed until the dog was gone. As I walked home, I replayed the thoughts I’d had during the near fight: Cat, are you kidding me? This dog is at least fifty pounds. You’d be a Scooby Snack for him in no time flat. Cat, I know you felines can be territorial but this dog is walking by on a leash, not trying to take over your cat flat. It’d be like David and Goliath—this dog is five times bigger than you are. Get real! It hadn’t occurred to me that cats and dogs might fight each other. Fighting their own, sure. But this tussle seemed as odd to me as an apple fighting an orange. Still, I felt that I’d helped prevent a fight. I patted myself on the back.


My final animal anecdote didn’t happen to me, but it fits with our animal theme today. Did you hear that part of a woolly Mammoth skeleton was found in Michigan quite recently? So exciting! I marveled at the side of its skull. It must have been mind-boggling for the farmer who found it in his land. As I read on, I learned that wooly Mammoths have been found in ten other sites in Michigan, so perhaps the farmer was pleasantly surprised but not shocked by the discovery. If there are Woolly Mammoths all over Michigan, it would be the equivalent to news about the weather here in San Diego. “Oh, sunny and clear? Wonderful.” Just kidding. His discovery must have shocked the farmer. The skeleton is 12,000-13,000 years old. This woolly Mammoth stuff is exciting!


Thanks for joining me for another educational episode of Sarah’s Biology Class. I hope you learned something and laughed a little, too.