Archive for the 'Recreating' category

Focus on Nauseating Holiday Craft, Ignore Holiday Craft Disasters…


The theme for last Christmas was hand crafting with love. Some things worked out fantastically, and others…well…lets just say they were made with lots of love but not so much craft!

Let’s go back to the beginning; namely, our first decision as Krafty Kris Kringles. We had to choose a gift for Mom & Dad and Ian & Deborah that we could actually make from scratch. After some perusing of the Interwebs, we settled upon shrubs, also known as drinking vinegars. Of course, as often happens in life, one decision begets even more decisions, and in this case, those decisions had to do with figuring out what flavor combinations to pursue. We ultimately settled on three:

  • Blood Orange & Basil with Champagne Vinegar
  • Raspberry with Apple Cider Vinegar
  • Kiwi, Lemon & Rosemary with champagne Vinegar


We used fresh fruit for the first and third, while the middle beverage was created with frozen Oregon berries.

There are two general methods for shrub making: cold and hot. We chose the former, which involves macerating the fruit with sugar for a few days in the fridge, straining it, and then mixing the resulting liquid with the right amount of vinegar. Then you return them to the icebox (or not) to meld for a bit. (The hot method involves cooking the fruits to make a syrup. Surprisingly, the cold method is supposed to yield stronger fruit flavors.)

In reality, for us, that was the easy part. The difficult part had to do with bottling, which completely took over our kitchen — from the boiling of bottles, to the drying of bottles in our dishwasher, to star san-ing the bottles so no one would die after sampling our wares. The two biggest items we had that I hadn’t considered before we began: a) We had a giant stock/canning pot, uber handy; and b) We had a dishwasher, which was maybe the most important thing for staging the bottles upside down at various points of the process. Most handy tip we read.


After bottling, we ginned up these cute (if we may say so) little booklets for each flavor that included information on the concoction and a recipe/cocktail suggestion. With marketing collateral complete, we packed the shrubs with paired beverages (like Prosecco, sparkling water, and some mixologist elixirs) in a wine box and put them under the tree.

What was our favorite? I would have to say the blood orange poured into a little agua con gas. Tres refreshing!

Lessons Learned:


  1. We were doing this in winter, so citrus was in season, which isn’t typical for shrub making, but we were very happy with the results.
  2. If you are going to infuse with an herb, take it out after the first day, or maybe submerge it in the fruit mixture with a cheesecloth so it doesn’t get icky.
  3. Straining the raspberries took a lot of work, and a lot of cheesecloth.
  4. We started with the basic recipe proportions of 1 part sugar to 1 part fruit to 1 part vinegar. However, when it came time to add the vinegar, we adjusted the amount based on the strength of the flavors in the fruit base.
  5. Everyone had their own preference for how much shrub they liked when creating a drink. The citrus flavors were definitely more delicate and I used a higher concentration of those when mixing them.

I Know that Floating Shouldn’t Be Competitive, But…


“Wow, you made it the whole 90 minutes…Generally, a first time floater only makes it an hour.”

I couldn’t help but feel inordinately pleased when I heard these words, all the while resisting the urge to fist pump my triumph, which would have been unseemly for so many reasons, and completely not in the spirit of the experience.

My birthday treat this year? Deprivation — sensory deprivation, that is. I have always wanted to try one of those devices where you float in a tank with no sound, no light, and no movement, just me suspended in some super salty saline. So after a bit’o Internet searchin’, I came up with Mudra Massage, where they not only had a float tank, but they also practiced Ashiatsu massage:

“If you’re in need of deep tissue work, but don’t enjoy the discomfort of pointy elbows and thumbs, then Ashiatsu Oriental Bar Therapy® is the treatment for you. Ashiatsu is a barefoot massage technique in which the therapist delivers deep, broad, consistent pressure while utilizing their feet and body weight.”

We had a winner! Sensory deprivation and then someone walking around on my back. Perfect.

I showed up for my appointment having followed their admonishments not to shave (my kinda place), drink caffeine, or get a tattoo prior to my float. I was ushered into a room with a shower and a giant pod that looked something like an astronaut return-to-earth space capsule. They gave me a few instructions, like where to place my head (near the fresh air input) and to relax my neck and shoulders (first time floaters will often tense to lift their head just a tiny bit to avoid the sensation of drowning).

Then it was just me, the shower, and the space capsule.

After a body wash, it was time to get in. Buck naked, I stepped into the hatch, gingerly, because it was super slippery, and lowered myself to my knees. Using the interior handle, I swung the hatch door down while simultaneously, and unceremoniously, falling onto my butt, enveloping myself in total, complete and utter darkness.


With a gentle recline, I lowered my back into the water until I was suspended in the briny solution, my head pushed down and my ears fully submerged. I could see nothing and I could hear only my breathing and the sound of my own heartbeat.

My first fluster had to do with where to put my hands. If I placed them along my hips, the buoyancy of the water would push my shoulders into an aggressive shrug — not comfortable at all. When I flipped my hands up and opened my arms wide, the edges of my fingers would brush up against the sides of the tank, which ruined the feeling of weightlessness. Finally, I raised my hands over my head — BINGO! Comfort at last. I figured, at that point, I would relax right into it and enter a Zen-like state.

Nope. No Zen-like state.

Instead, I started thinking about the return air. I wondered if it was working and how I would know if it wasn’t? I started thinking that it might be good to monitor myself for carbon monoxide poisoning…then I began trying to remember what the symptoms were and wished I had a “floating buddy” like I used to have when diving, to keep an eye out for nitrogen narcosis. This led to an entire fantasy about how it would make an interesting death in a James Bond movie to have a villain in a deprivation tank. A crow bar through the handles on the outside and the person inside wouldn’t be able to leave. Then you plug off the exterior air return…a horrible slow death in the space capsule.

As you can imagine, these lines of contemplation were not leading to a relaxing experience.

After what I estimate to be about 45 minutes of obsessive “I am going to die in the space capsule” thoughts, I began to have a mini hot flash. Game over. I decided to open the tank so that cool air could wash over my face. I sat up, and experienced a momentary bit of panic because I couldn’t locate the interior hatch handle! (I had turned in the tank and was not facing entirely forward.) A short burst of pawing in the dark and I pinpointed the handle, pushed it free of the capsule, and propped it open enough to gulp down some refreshing air.

As good as it felt to spring that hatch, to be honest, it also seemed that my need to burst free was somehow cheating…the process…me…I’m not sure. How silly is that?

A minute or two later, I returned to the tank. And what a difference that break made.

I laid back and immediately entered a Zen state, experiencing crazy physical hallucinations. There was a long stretch of time where I would have sworn I was a suspended in a giant bowl of jello…and I would occasionally gently press down on the water, and enjoy moving in the jiggling jello. At other times, I woke myself up with a snore or with body twitches. And later, I believed 100% I was laying on my bed — that there was something physically underneath me more substantial and much harder than the water. And perhaps it was the salt drying on my stomach, but soon after that, I swore a blanket had been thrown over the top of me.

These sensations were not alarming, rather I marveled at them.

This second half of floating literally flew by, until I was brought out of my Zen slumber by soft music emanating from the bottom of the tank. (I bet the astronauts didn’t have that.)

Would I do it again? I don’t know. Am I glad I did it? Absolutely. Was it a great birthday experience? Yeppers.

And of course, now I’m going to have to talk Tom and the Zs into trying it too!

I Have to Get Up at What Time…and on my Birthday?


As my birthday is nigh, I have decided to reflect on my celebration last year.

For those of you who know me well, you would all agree it’s not an exaggeration to say that I am really really really not a morning person. As a result, you can understand Tom’s nervousness when he inquired whether it would ruin my birthday if he planned a surprise which involved getting up very early. In the spirit of our trying something new — spending time together instead of spending moolah on a bunch of crap we don’t need — I couldn’t exactly say no.

So I grudgingly agreed to be rousted early on the anniversary of my birth.

The day started with a quick breakfast and advice to dress for a sporting activity. We headed down to the car and I found it was pre-packed with our bikes. Hmmmm. Where are we going, I wondered? (I didn’t bother to ask, as he wouldn’t have told me.)

It was a shockingly gorgeous morning, after days of rain, in late May. And even though it was o;earlysunrise, I truly felt happy to be driving to parts unknown without having had to organize a thing.

Eventually we made it to our destination: The Historic Columbia River Highway State Trail in Mosier, Oregon. I have to say that it is absolutely crazy that this used to be Highway 30, high atop the cliffs overlooking the Columbia River, upon which drivers traversed east/west to and from Portland in automobiles. I mean crazy. It barely seems an adequate width as a bike trail, much less being suitable for vehicles.

But the views were amazing, the tunnels fantastic, and the different climate zones pretty cool.

The only part that sucked is that I own a no-gear, sit-straight-up, white-wall-tired, beach bike that weighs about a thousand pounds. So even though the climbing on this ride was not overly steep by most measures, on a super heavy bike with no gears, well, let’s just say that Tom got me up early and treated me to a sweatfest of a workout for my birthday!

But, it came with a homemade lunch, lovely vistas, and lots of love. So it was one of the best birthdays ever! Thanks babe (Official blog thanks, a year late!)



[Click on photos to enlarge.]

Zoe Pong!

Zoe went to #OSCON (Open Source Convention) in Portland this July, attending a robotics camp for girls. Since most of the stuff they worked on with Lego Mindstorms she had already done at home, she found the most thrilling element of the conference to be swag acquisition.

She came home with bags of t-shirts, mugs, mouse pads, and strangely, a ping pong ball. Yes, a ping pong ball. And not just any ping pong ball! This one came complete with a picture of a little masked ninja face on the side, as you can see in the picture above.

One day, this ball provided her with a flash of boredom-relieving inspiration, and she announced, “I am going to make ping pong paddles.”

“Please don’t,” I pleaded, picturing that ill gotten little ball ricocheting around our apartment, and then into my head. By accident, of course.

Big surprise, Zoe ignored me, and with some tongue depressors, paper, and duct tape, she made two ping pong paddles. Amazingly, they functioned perfectly to allow for a robust game of Zoe Pong on our dining room table, since the paddles absorbed enough of the ball’s velocity to allow the game to scale down just the right amount. I hate to admit it, but both Tom and I became big fans of Zoe Pong, and had some epic matches ourselves! (Okay, we don’t officially keep score. We get so competitive, it could get a little too heated!)

After Tom, the Zs and I all took a turn, we agreed unanimously: “Ian is going to love this!” You can see him taking some shots in the picture here!

Bruise Wheels, Black Eyes & Totally Disgusting Weeping Open Wounds!

We were excited this year when Maker Faire came to Portland, albeit in mini form! The kids enjoyed watching the watermelon launched by the giant catapult with the fancy french name…trebuchet! They made some adorable animals out of sculpting chocolate, pedal-powered their own smoothies on some bicycle blenders, and, of course, went in for some obligatory faire face painting.

Only in this case, it was Trackers style. Yes, that’s right. Trackers, or what I call hippie survival camp, which the Zs love. (The girls said they do a zombie apocalypse camp, how cool is that?)

Anyhow, Trackers had a booth at Mini Maker Faire and they were doing some awesome horrorfilmesque face painting that was a draw for old and young alike. Truth be told, it was a bit strange to see wee little tots in line for fake wounds and bruising!

Of course, the girls were instantly smitten with the concept, and placed themselves in line as Tom wandered off to peruse a few uber geeky booths we might find boring.

Zoe quickly made it to the front of the line (the artist was fast), plunked down in the chair and declared, “I would like an open cut on my arm.” The makeup whiz asked me if I had a kleenex, which I did not. But a bystander offered what I hope was an unused napkin, which she declared, “Perfect!”

This Michelangelo of the Macabre ripped a piece of the napkin, placed it on Zoe’s arm, and then sealed it to Zoe’s skin with liquid latex, leaving a line through the center raised and unattached to Zoe. Then, she began to color over it with her makeup brush from a circular palette she called her “bruise wheel!” It looked shockingly real very quickly, the napkin appearing to be peeled back layers of skin.

The icing on the cake, if you will, came when she split open the raised bit of napkin and filled the resulting trough with her special concoction of fake blood (a formulation of chocolate syrup, corn syrup and food coloring). It was disgusting, as you can see in the staged pictures below.

Zelda was next on the docket, and she requested a black eye. The makeup whiz whipped that thing out in a mere minute or two, explaining in detail to Zelda how the bones shatter and the resulting bruise pattern that occurs with a hard strike to the eye socket.

“I don’t know how to do pretty makeup,” she chatted with Zelda. “When I got married, my friends had to do do all the princess work…I only know how to do the scary stuff!”

With my disturbingly wounded lovelies in tow, we set off to find Tom.

It didn’t take long for the tall guy to spot us from a distance, his face lighting up when he saw us approaching. As we came into focus though, his hand went to his heart and he visibly staggered upon seeing the girls, so realistic was the effect. I thought he was going to have a heart attack, which, naturally, was a bonus in the eyes of our darling children!

The walk back to the car drew a lot of shocked glances and outright gawking. Clearly the highlight of Maker Faire for the Zs, and also an interesting experience, to see how fellow pedestrians interacted with their injured selves.

My View During Geometry…

This is the beach of my late childhood. The beach I could see from my high school geometry class, the one that would mesmerize me into a catatonic state, causing me to lose my train of thought…

Was that interior alternate angles are equal…?

This is the beach where my best friends and I skipped off to during the wind and rain of winter, dodging out on a practice run to go swimming in the cold ass Pacific Ocean, plowing into the surf in our shorts, t-shirts, and knee-high sports socks.

When my New Jersey-born husband first visited the Oregon Coast with me, he couldn’t believe my high school was located directly across the street from such gorgeousness.

Tom still laughs about his inaugural sojourn to the beach of my childhood. We walked toward the sea from my parents’ place, located roughly a quarter mile from the dunes and grasses, emerging onto some of the most stunning coastline I have ever seen.

I looked left, I looked right, and said…”I can’t believe it…it’s so crowded!

Now, you have to remember that Tom’s childhood coastal experiences were more along the lines of the Jersey Shore, where a body is hard pressed to find visible bits of sand in the crush of humanity that congregates there.

So, as you can imagine, he found my attitude particularly funny.

Uhm, Michele…there are…what…about five people here?!?

I know…I can’t believe it,” I responded, with no small amount of outrage.

It is lovely for the Zs that this is now the beach of their childhood. They freeze themselves in the water, swimming until their lips are blue. They roll around in the sand (still) until their ears are full of its multi-colored grains. They scramble over the huge piles of driftwood left by surging storms.

Luckily though, they don’t have the resulting drop in mathematical thinking that often accompanied my connection to the beach!

Making Your Own Longboard — It Doesn’t Get Any Cooler Than That!

Zoe likes to build things. Hence our excitement that her public middle school has managed to retain something resembling a shop class.

(A minor miracle in these days of endless budget cuts. Next thing you know, they’ll be bringing back slate and chalk for all the kiddos.)

The teacher is pretty hands off, letting the kids do what they want — from building worlds in Minecraft, to using GarageBand to put together a soundtrack, to creating three dimensional models of real buildings in Google Sketchup for budding architects, to making wooden nameplates. (I picture them creating signs such as “This is my room, stay out!”)

The real action, and the gory stories, are with the power tools though. Zoe loves to tell the one about a kid hopping on the power equipment when a substitute teacher was leading the class (supposedly happened years ago), and getting injured. I’m not sure if it’s true, but the potential for grievous bodily harm is apparently irresistible when you are in 7th grade, and they all love to complain about subsequent band saw and sanding restrictions when substitutes are in residence.

A sampling of Zoe’s work this semester:

  • A bird house for my Dad’s 70th birthday! Pictured below.
  • A toy wooden car…sort of an old fashioned dragster.
  • A desk jockey for her, and a desk jockey for me (gift for Mother’s Day). An example of the jockey is pictured below. She heated, bent and sanded the plastic so it was smooth; cut, beveled, sanded and finished the wooden base; and then attached all the accoutrement!
  • A freaking awesome longboard. I think this is the whole reason she was excited about taking the class in the first place. And, we had to sign a waiver of liability in order for her to make just the skate deck!

After Zoe made the board, she raced home and immediately ordered trucks and fat longboard wheels. When they came in, she grabbed the drill, installed it all, and took it outside…only to discover she put the trucks on backward. If she leaned the board to the left, it would turn right, and vice versa! It was hilarious watching her try to ride it anyway. (Talk about exercising your brain.)

She eventually gave up on her backward board, took another pass at truck installation, and voila, she had a fully functional, fantastically fearsome, longboard.

Three Bunnies and a Bald Eagle

Tom and I had a lovely taste of two things yesterday: spring, and unexpectedly being child-free for much of the afternoon and evening!

We took advantage of this windfall and hoofed our old asses out to Sauvie Island for a stroll along the Oak Island Nature Trail, which takes visitors around the peninsula of the same name.

It was dusk by the time we finished, the light was incredible, and I was lamenting the fact that I hadn’t thought to bring my camera. We could see Mount St. Helens, Mt. Adams, and Mt. Hood as if they were a mere few feet away, but unfortunately I only had my less than stellar phone to try to capture the moment. The picture on the upper left is the best I could do, with Adams and St. Helens reflected in the still waters. We basked in this truly stupendous view for awhile. (click to enlarge)

Our highly underdeveloped bird watching skills really paid off, as we were able to spy a GIGANTIC bald eagle surveying its domain high in a tree just off the trail. I’ve seen a lot of osprey, but not yet a bald eagle at that distance. It was enormous, and amazing. Later, as we rounded the point, we came to an area where the branches were literally festooned with large nests, and then, standing apart from them all, was what appeared to be a freaking tree house. Being natural…well…naturalists, we figured that must be the home of the bald eagle, and a palace it was. (Second picture below shows the nest if you enlarge.)

In communing with Gaea, we enjoyed the refuge meets farm view (bottom left) and the wild grasses (bottom right). On our walk, we also spotted three bunnies hopping down the trail, across the trail, and into the bushes.

I love Portland, that such amenities are nearby. That it is relatively bug free, so I don’t have to slather myself in insect repellent. And, that as a community, the public and private sector are dedicated to the preservation of our natural environment.

Happy Earth Day!

Stop…I mean Start…the Presses!

In Portland, we have a wonderful store, if you adore paper arts and letterpress. It’s called Oblation Paper and Press. I was lucky enough to take a letterpress class there a while ago, working with those incredible old machines and wooden letter blocks (I made a postcard-sized thank you card that said “Danke”).

Anyhow, our current downsized lifestyle, which I adore, does not really include room for a turn-of-the-century, gigantic, zillion pound letterpress machine! (Maybe when the Zs depart…) So, I didn’t think playing with letterpress would be in my future.

Then, Tom gifted me with the crafter-sized QuicKutz Epic 6 letterpress and die cutter this Christmas.

Before even using it, I have to say that I enjoyed reading all of the reviews. I traveled back in time, via the Interwebs, to the moment of its launch to see what reactions were when it first came out. The outraged posts on the part of professional letterpress artists about this innocuous little machine surprised the heck out of me. I am not sure what they found so threatening. I would think it would only expand people’s appreciation for, and understanding of, this incredible art.

The consumer reviews were definitely entertaining. My personal favorite was the complaint that to use it, you would continue to have to purchase supplies. Does a tube of paint came with an inexhaustible supply of canvas? Of course not. Think of it this way, you are buying a tool with a minimum amount of supplies to get started. Also, many complained, “I got it out of the box and it didn’t work perfectly on the first print.”

Welcome to letterpress!

When I took my class at Oblation, the pros had to use a ton of tricks and tweaks to get great results. Every machine had its own personality. Don’t expect home letterpress to be any different.

There are some good posts about modifying the machine, and about other’s experiences with it, including this one from Boxcar, here from Paper Crave, and lastly Viva la Blogette’s review.

Mine own first pass reactions after spending a few hours with the machine several weeks ago are below. Above is a photo of some of the results I got with the Epic 6 during that time.

  1. I was able to get passable results pretty quickly out of the box, particularly with the finer letters and lines.

  2. The plates that are included are uber low quality. When I opened the box, several of the stock images were dramatically warped and completely unusable.

  3. The brayer that was included worked fine for me, particularly on narrow text. In fact, for this, I preferred it to the fancier 6″ one I purchased on the recommendations above. I am curious to order plates from Boxcar though, and use the larger brayer with some guides. This will be the key to good results with larger inked areas, which are hard to coat evenly with the smaller brayer.

  4. I had no problem with cracking plates, as others did. But, I didn’t print any large runs. Also, I didn’t press boundaries in terms of increasing the impression depth.

  5. Watching a video or two beforehand is definitely helpful.

  6. You will definitely want more color than the solo black tube included with the kit, so buy an array of ink ahead of time if you can!

  7. Make sure you have lots of time to play the first time you take it out of the box. It’s addictive!

Easter on Dueling Packet Ships…

Engaging in a cannon battle with another tall ship is not necessarily a traditional way to spend the Easter Holiday, but fun nonetheless!

My mother spotted this activity in the paper and signed us all up for a day of cat and mouse on the Columbia River. Oddly, it was a rainy day without wind, but they were still able to maneuver rather handily. The Lady Washington and the Hawaiian Chieftain, manned with an able bodied crew, went at it while us land lubbers looked on. I have to say, watching the men and women who scurried up the ladders to set sail really crystallized my sense of joy that I am not a deck hand on a boat in the 19th century!

And yes, finally blogging about an event from April. Totally lame.