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Wednesday, May 25, 2016

Wacky Wednesday #57: Birds of a Feather

You: Sarah, what are you doing?

Me: Walking around with birds on my head. Why?

You: You said you were taking a break from weekly Wacky Wednesdays.

Me: Oh, that. Yes, I fully meant it when I wrote that three weeks ago. And I did take two weeks off. But the kids I see on Wednesday mornings get such a kick out of my kookiness, so I decided I’d throw together something fun for a few more Wednesday until school lets out. I’ll take a break this summer.

This week’s look does not really require explanation—I mean, nothing says “I’m ready for school to get out” like wearing birds on your head, right? Perhaps a cuckoo bird would be even more appropriate, because if I don’t get a break soon from being Homework Cop I will officially go cuckoo.

Why birds this week? (Why not?) Really, the timing is just coincidence. I didn’t have time to pull together a full head-to-toe costume this week but you stick something on your head and you’re halfway there. Two of these three birds I’ve had for years. The large blue one I made yesterday because I needed a trio. The other two were decorations (one was an ornament) and I jazzed them both up for today’s post. Making a necklace from feathers added to my theme, and my bird necklace keeps things lighthearted with its “chirp” message. Gotta have humor.


Did you ever read Birdman of Alcatraz? This week’s theme makes me want to reread it. Maybe I’ll start calling myself Birdlady of San Diego…

I didn’t spend a cent to bring these accessories together because everything I made came from my sewing stash. It took two hours to make my head piece and my necklaces. (Not nearly as long as it takes to make a real nest, I suspect.)

For once I’ll keep my post short. There are still hundreds of things I need to do before school lets out next month so without further ado, off I fly. Til next week, try not to ruffle anyone’s feathers! (Unless they deserve it.)

Thursday, May 19, 2016

Starts with X

Recently something funny happened and I decided that the story was one I should share on my blog. If you have kids, you’ll relate to this and if you don’t, I think it still will be amusing.

One of my kiddos came home from school with an assignment to draw five things that start with X. We knocked three out right away: xylophone, X-ray and Xerox.

And then we ground to a halt. We were stumped.

So I did a search online for words that start with X. They exist, but they’re obscure words that aren’t easily drawn. I suppose we could try to draw Xylitol, the sweetner. And there’s xylograph, an engraving done in wood. But it was getting late in the day and we decided to put the homework aside until the next day.

Still, I thought it was amazing that we have so few words in our everyday language that start with x.

Since I love sharing the weird things that capture my attention, allow me to list a few words I found online that are especially confusing (and long) and start with X. I will include definitions in case (like me) you are bewildered by the seemingly random collections of constants with the occasional vowel:

·         Xylyl (a group of atoms derived from xylene)

·         Xylene (any of three colorless flammable isomeric benzene derivatives, C8H10, obtained from wood and coal tar. I tried to find a user-friendly way to define Xylene but it just wasn’t happening so this is the definition I found online, verbatim.)

·         Xu (Vietnamese money)

·         Xyst (a covered walkway in ancient Greece or ancient Rome)

·         Xerophthalmia (extreme dryness of the eye due to a lack of vitamin A)

·         Xerophyte (a plant that survives with little water)

·         Xanthine (a compound found in humans, certain plants and in animal tissue)

·         xylophagous (feeding on wood, as in beetles, etc)

Most of the words I listed above are scientific, but I don’t work in a science lab so I’m not saying many words starting with X on a daily basis. And none of the terms above has come home on our sight words flashcards. (Thank Heavens.)

This research did jog my memory a little. I recalled that “xeriscape” is a word I see regularly, especially here in San Diego, where we need to save water by planting things that don’t need a lot of water.

I wondered how many words start with X, as opposed to other letters in the English alphabet. The accounts vary but I found helpful info on one website (compiled by someone who wrote a JAVA computer program to count English words starting with each letter).

According to, here are some interesting facts about letters:

The letter S starts 25,333 words in the English language—making it the letter that starts the most words. 10.6% of the words tallied begin with S. (Given that my name starts with S I think this is a wonderful statistic and it makes me happy.)

The letter X is at the very bottom of the list. There are 384 words in the English language beginning with X (this is .16% of all words tallied). I knew I wasn’t imagining how hard it was to think of words starting with x!

This story has a funny ending. The day after we racked our brains to find X words, a note came home from school. The note said that the words on the X page did not need to start with X, after all. The words could have an X in them, somewhere. (Much better.) I quickly came up with a handful of (one-syllable) words I mastered once upon a time when I was in Kindergarten. Six. Mix. Ox. Fox. Box. Ax. Max. Tax. Wax. Hex. Tex-Mex. (Ahh, nothing like a rhyme.) And then I began pondering why so many words in English end in “cks” but make an “x” sound, like trucks, ticks, snacks and decks. But hey, that’s probably a post for another day…


Wednesday, May 18, 2016

Wacky Wednesday #56: Paper Clips

Let’s consider the humble paper clip.
I see paper clips every day. They are sent home weekly from school, holding together homework packets. I use them at home. You may have them at work. But are they exciting enough to warrant a blog post all on their own?
Of course!

The idea for today’s accessories dates back to ten years ago when I noticed a container of paper clips coated in plastic of various colors. Their bright colors beckoned to me and I thought, “These could turn into an art piece.” I didn’t make them into art at the time but the idea has been on my mind ever since. Anything colorful calls to me as a potential art material. Oh, you too? See, color has power!

When you use hundreds of paper clips together you get a lot of color and texture. It’s a project best seen up close, since paper clips are small. I love making art from everyday materials that many people just see as functional. When I walk, the clips on my head gently jingle-jangle together, and they sound like wind chimes. I like that, and I like how the clips on all my accessories move as I move, like fringe.

Funny—I took the last two weeks off from making new accessories and blogging about them. In some ways it was great to have a break, but I also felt strange. Wednesday isn’t the same without at least some wackiness…

Would you like to know a little about the history of the paper clip? It’s controversial, which may surprise you. This is because there are various accounts of how and when these clips were invented. I found three different accounts online regarding their origins in various countries. But several sources cite America’s William Middlebrook as the inventor of the paper clip in 1899.

When I tried to find out when and why paper clips became available in colorful plastic coating, the best explanation I found was that the plastic prevents rips and marks on paper it is holding together. No rust stains if you use plastic. Perhaps some people use the various colors to help them organize papers (blue clip for one type of paper, red clip for another). I think the colorful plastic-coated clips are simply more fun than the metal ones. I used to work office temp jobs when I wasn’t getting enough art gigs, and I filed a lot of paper. For me, sorting papers is a task that needs all the fun it can get.

Today I am wearing 300 paper clips. Some of the clips are attached to each other, but in some places I sewed them on or used hot glue to attach them. Total cost:  $3.50.
Sometimes while making costumes I have moments when I wonder if I am wasting materials. My last costume was made of gum wrappers, which would have been thrown into the trash if I hadn’t used them. But paper clips could be used for their intended purpose instead of on me. So am I wasting them? I don’t know. But I think I will focus on the happy parts of creating rather than wrestling with the pros and cons. If you had a necklace you only wore on special occasions you wouldn’t worry that you were wasting the metal when it wasn’t around your neck. So I’ll stop this “what if” stuff and just have fun with my creations.

I hope you’ve enjoyed these colorful accessories. If nothing else, maybe you’ll look at paper clips a little differently from now on. They are humble, but they hold a lot of things together and do quite a bit, given their small size. They are the hard-working ant of the office world, holding a hundred times their weight and working day and night to get the job done.

Wednesday, May 11, 2016

Farm Fresh Fun


Llamas and tires and berries, oh my!

(Did you catch the reference? Lately we’ve been watching The Wizard of Oz a lot at our house.)

We visited a farm today and there were llamas and tires and berries (oh my).
Well, one llama. (But this is more llamas than I usually see each day/week/month.)
We saw big tires. These tractor tires were probably four feet across.
Berries? Fields of them. Blackberries, blueberries and strawberries.
Welcome to Stehly Farms Organic in Valley Center, CA, north of San Diego.

I was giddy with glee at the farm. It’s always fun to go somewhere different, and to learn about how they do what they do. I had tons of questions for the owners. Why do they do this? When do they pick that? Do they use machines for picking? How many acres are there? David, who oversees the vegetable growing at Stehly, laughed and called me a questionsaholic, which I accepted as the compliment he clearly intended it as. Yep, I have a thirsty mind and I drank in all the sights, smells and sounds at the farm. I grew up in Los Angeles, so it’s safe to say I wasn’t nose to snout with pigs. There were no tractors or rows of corn. So farms fascinate me.

These days I participate in a local community garden, and it gives me a lot of satisfaction to grow a few tomatoes and to watch in wonder as friends grow vegetables and flowers from A to Z. I find it challenging to deal with the weeds in my garden bed, and to know how much water the plants need or which soil amendments to try. And this is in a 5’ x 10’ garden bed! I can’t imagine how much work (both physical and mental) goes into running an organic farm. I was happy as a pig in muck. How often does a suburban gal like me get to see goats and sheep? Or pick her own oranges and blueberries?

This was a school field trip, a day of fun mixed with a few lessons about farming. The kiddos watched co-owner Noel Stehly demonstrate Hass avocado grafting. He showed how to graft a piece of bud wood onto the seed tree to turn a non-producing avocado tree into one that produces. It was science meets live theater: we learned something and it was entertaining, too. Moments like this bring science lessons to life. I love the passion you see and hear when the Stehlys are talking about what they grow.

Wherever I go, I have lots of questions about why things are done as they are, and about who, what, when and where. So before co-owner Jerome Stehly had taken his first breath I was throwing questions at him about the farm. How big is it? It’s approximately 278 acres, with 200 of them being used to grow crops. I asked about what their biggest crop is (it’s avocado) and how many people work full-time at the farm. I had questions about the berries and critters and coyotes and what it takes to get a lemon to market. We sampled fresh squeezed Valencia orange juice (delish) and watched a boxing machine fold and hot glue cardboard rectangles into boxes, lightning fast. We watched animals and learned techniques for picking oranges and how they water 200 acres of crops. (Not with a watering can.) Each tree has its own sprinkler head. There are wells at Stehly Farm (1200 feet deep) as well as springs. There are plenty of machines at the farm but every single crop is picked by hand. The animals on the farm help out a lot. It was a science lesson in practice. The owl boxes at the farm house owls, who keep the gopher and rat population down, which allow the crops to grow. The sheep graze on weeds. Good insects eat bad insects who otherwise would eat up all the crops. (Boy, there’s a lot to this farming biz!)

Want to know what they grow there? This is not a complete list but here are some of their crops: asparagus, avocados, blackberries, blueberries, chard, corn, dragon fruit, garlic, grapefruits, kale, lemons, limes, onions, oranges, pomegranates and strawberries.

I want to do paintings from the photos I took at Stehly Farms today. It was a fantastic experience: being out in nature, seeing things grow at this huge scale, and learning from the people who oversee it. It takes science to grow things but it also takes a lot of heart. It takes passion and commitment and energy. What a delight to spend part of a day on a real farm. I think this city girl actually may be part farmer. Now where are my overalls?