Saturday, July 30, 2011

Soda Spilled on an American Quilt (Week 8 of Fireflies at Dusk: a 52-Week Journey)

Warm weather passes quickly in the Pacific Northwest so we have to enjoy it now. 

This past weekend my family and I walked to the park for a summer picnic.  The picnic table we had was slanted and it was tricky trying to keep our drinks upright, so of course, I spilled my soda onto our colorful family quilt.  I was packing all the barbecued chicken, chips, and strawberries back up as my husband and daughter went and played in the grass, and I started thinking about the metaphor here: life is a quilt unfolding on a slanted picnic table inviting inevitable spills.  The sooner we can make peace with this and not fight against it, the better.  I found it oddly beautiful the way the soda soaked into the stitching.  It sunk into the texture of the cotton and make this new quilt look instantly antiquated.

The colors of the quilt reveal are our hopes and our dreams -- colors always changing or fading with time.  The beauty is the imperfection, the peace is in finding it beautiful - that random thing that could be so easily overlooked, that frustration or pain that could surprisingly bring us joy.

One generation makes an American quilt, or some heirloom that can be tangibly held, another finds comfort from its familiarity.  The more weathered, the less perfect, the better.

(c) 2011 photo and writing by Chloe - all rights reserved


Friday, July 22, 2011

The Best Playhouse You Could Imagine as a Kid (Week 7 of Fireflies at Dusk: A 52-Week Project)

Think of the best playhouse (or other fun thing or experience) you had or could imagine having as a child.  Then go make that real for your own child or some other child in your life.  

A play kitchenette made from shelves.
This is where the idea of the Fireflies at Dusk Project first sprouted from more than a year ago - the idea of parents recreating the good parts of their childhood for their own children (and making it even better!). When my daughter was younger, I put together a playhouse for her as her birthday gift.  This week I decided to do all the finishing touches I haven't had time to do over the past year.

If you look around online for ideas on how to make a homemade playhouse you'll find that a lot of parents have taken old entertainment centers and turned them into play kitchens.  With that as my inspiration, I used a set of shelves and made her a kitchenette which went into the closet under the stairs - a cozy little space. 
A little couch and side table next to the kitchenette.
A closer view of the left side of the play kitchenette

Because so many people have asked about the details of making the playhouse, here it is:

First, I assembled a set of ClosetMaid brand shelves with nine sections.

To make the sink:  I used a  stainless steel bowl from Goodwill, stainless steel cabinet knobs from the hardware section of a local store, and the top of a soap dispenser.  I took off the regular shelf here and replaced it with some particle board for easier cutting.  I used a small saw to cut out the circle to drop the bowl into it.  I used contact paper in a pattern that look like kitchen counter granite.

Casdon Toys makes realistic looking hot pots, toasters and other fun things (the more realistic, the more fun, I say!)  We are always rotating toys from storage from the garage - these pictures show what is in there at the moment - thank you to everyone who has given us fun toys for the little house!

A closer view of the center of the play kitchenette

Target has a polka-dotted bathroom set - we use the washcloths for tea towels, the tumbler for a utensil crock, and the material from a hand towel for the pillow on the couch.  We also got the cupcake set from Target.  More contact paper on the counter.  My old spice containers became her new ones.  Put up stick-up lights in any compartment you like and it starts to feel like a very real little kitchen!! 

A closer view of the right side of the play kitchenette
To make the stove: stainless steel contact paper, Folger's ground coffee lids for the burners, black cabinet knobs.
I used contact paper that looks like stainless steel and borrowed the shelf from the left side and mounted it on top of the one already there (since I used a piece of particle board and set it on top to make the stove top thicker and more realistic).
Most any time I went online to search for play toys for the kitchen, I just did online searching for 'Montessori style toys' and I found a lot of things that look realistic from Amazon or other places.  More contact paper was used for the back splash.  
This was a lot of trial and error, a lot of measuring and remeasuring, cutting and then gluing back together what I shouldn't have cut and somehow it all just came together after working on it for about 15-20 minutes a day for about three months.  You could do this in a weekend or two if you dedicated more uninterrupted time to it!  

Have fun!

Sunday, July 17, 2011

The Muppet Show with Popcorn (Week 6 of Fireflies at Dusk: a 52 Week Project)

This was Muppet Show Week which means I introduced my little one to a very important piece of my Gen X childhood.

As a little kid, I'd be so excited to go to my father's house at the end of the week - I'd get to see him every weekend before he moved to another state.  One  my best memories during this short time was making a giant bowl of popcorn and leaning back on over sized pillows to watch the show. 

So this week it was onto YouTube to watch season one (1976) - I don't remember watching these until they were on TV until the early 80s, but some of this looked familiar. 

I watched my little one watch the show for the first time and here is my report on her reactions:

1. Her eyebrows went up at the poofs of smoke lit up by colored lights as Dr.Teeth and the Electric Mayhem Band played their music.

2. She seemed suspicious as the Swedish Chef made a sub sandwich and then it began to fly.

3. She didn't seem interested in muppets circulating on the dance floor dropping one-liner jokes, but she did approve of Rowlf the Dog and his eagerly floppy ears.

As I watched this show for the first time in ages, I realized the two things that I loved most:

1. I loved when it would show the audience in the theater - all muppets themselves.  This made the muppet theater - a place always alive in my imagination - more real.   The audience would be cheering like crazy at the acts - so excited that they were sometimes unable to stay in their seats.   Who could blame them?

2. The second thing I realized I loved were the backstage conversations, the comraderie, the excitement getting ready to go live on stage, Kermit trying to sort out personality conflicts and dressing room space issues. 

In watching these backstage conversations I was learning how to deal with human relationships.  Jjust like muppets, every human being is at least a touch neurotic in their own unique way, yet we all need a chance - we all need to be loved anyway.  The affirming nod the muppets give when another one of them is talking is priceless.  Sometimes one muppet is speaking their heart and a whole room full of muppets nod simultaneously with boisterous validation.  If this happened in real life with people around you, imagine how happy that would make you feel!  If you had an audience so excited about your performance they could not even stay in their seat due to uncontainable excitement and applause, just think how confident you'd be! Could we humans all do that for each other more?
The next time you look around you at the people in your life, think of Kermit as the stage manager trying to sort out everyone's issues - these multi-colored foam rubber creatures full of quirks, complications and boundary-pushing gusto.  Kermit had his limits, which is important, but He still gave them a chance to go onstage - even when their jokes weren't all that funny, even when they hadn't quite shown up on time, even when they accidentally set things on fire.  Think of the people who gave you a chance to go onstage in spite of yourself and see if you can find an audience that appreciates your act so much that they explode with excitement at the end of your performance.  After taking your bow, make room for them onstage, go find a seat in the audience, and then do the same for them.

This blog entry is dedicated to my dearest friends who have cheered me on as I have decided to step up and go live with this blog.  I hope as our lives go on, that I can cheer you all on as much as you have done for me.


(c) 2011 photo and writing by Chloe - all rights reserved


Saturday, July 9, 2011

The Small Tin Box (Week 5 of Fireflies at Dusk: A 52-week journey)

Within each human soul lays a tin box.

When it has been a very long day and there is still a lot of work to do - still dinner to cook and a stack of dishes in the sink -  this is when I hear a knocking on the hollow of the metal.  Even more intense, when I am in some state of exhaustion, I hear all the contents of this box rattling, shaking angrily against the sides.

What is this small box?  
It holds the taste and feel and sound of happiness - a happiness that becomes more difficult to experience the more life experience you have.
It sits in some quiet corner between our conscious and unconscious thought.  

What is in your box?
It could be a specific place or time.  It could be a room in a house you once lived in and loved or a day in your life when you were surrounded by the best friends you ever had - something that you are now separated from because of space or time.  

What is my box?
I have lived in and visited so many places in my childhood that this it is not one place, but a combination of many different places in one.  In this box, I can smell clean linen on a clothesline.  There is a back yard where a swimming pool scatters light in dancing designs, where I can feel completely removed from any problem or responsibility, where I'm running around letting my bare feet feel the softness of the ground. There are two tangible things that connect me to that place. A grassy backyard on a sunny day and homemade ice cream.  

We brought out the kid-sized pool from the garage and filled it up with the hose.  My daughter picked up hollow blocks full of water and poured them onto my arms, while my husband sat smiling at us in the shade.  I looked at just what angle the sun was in the sky, the way it reflected all the green leaves and I chose to just live in the moment, to just be present and, all at once, my own backyard became the tin box itself.  And I realized this:

There is a lie that shakes around inside my tin box - that some irretrievable time has gone, that I cannot experience the present in the same way because this moment does not bear the same weight that other time did.

The truth is that now, this present moment, bears the most weight of all.

We came in to eat dinner and have dessert.   Feeling that sun-drenched sleepiness on my skin, pouring in the vanilla, having the ice cream maker hum and swirl, having that familiar taste on my tongue seemed to momentarily calm some part of me that feels such a tired sorrow - a sorrow for all that I cannot have back, for all I cannot get back.  
If there was a joy you used to have as a very small child, before life got really crazy, then refuse to give up on ever getting that feeling back.  If some warm backyard holiday from long ago makes you think that you could only have happiness if you could just get back to that place or just get back to that time, then it is time to recreate it.

Here is what you need to know:  the lid of the box can be opened and new things can be placed inside.  

(c) 2011 photography and writing by Chloe - all rights reserved


Sunday, July 3, 2011

A Much-Awaited Train Ride (Week 4 of Fireflies at Dusk: A 52-Week Journey)


Two different views  from the train window.  I'd always pictured going on a trip
just like this from Portland to Seattle: mild, cool and gray,
the scent of rain, charming bridges, the coastline.  

And then alongside a grassy patch, a short burst of sunlight came
through spilling shadows onto my table in the dining car.    

As far back as I can remember, I always wanted to go on a long train ride.  As a child, I day dreamed of going on one in the Pacific Northwest where the weather was rainy over green fields with mountains in the distance.  I imagined myself in a dining car eating a meal, looking out at the stormy horizon, feeling warm and cozy as the world unfolded parts of itself I had never seen.

The day dream continued on.  In my 20s, during a particularly hard time of my life, I secretly clipped out an Amtrak Cascades ad from a magazine showing a woman sitting beside a train window revealing a beautiful, misty landscape. I kept this picture tucked away in a drawer in my apartment.  On a really bad day, I would take it out to remind myself I would someday be in her place.  

Though we all have a big dream for our life, we all have at least a few little dreams, too.   We find ourselves often working on attaining that big dream because of motivation or some other persistent drive.  Yet you really can go your whole life and have some little shadowbox dream or some small slice of happiness you long for that is completely attainable, but you just never let yourself do it.  You just never take the time.  Some responsibility or another always keeps you from being able to go.


Get ready now.

And get ready to find some part of yourself that you thought was discarded, or trampled on, forgotten.  In moments when you embrace something that your heart is calling you to go after, you might surprise yourself with how alive you really are.

These moments help us see how we often do not realize how truly alive we really are.

(c) 2011 writing and photography by Chloe - all rights reserved