Box town

Boxes stamped with Yellow Owl Workshop's Cityscape set. Very happy-making. Read more about me at

Comfort and joy


The daytime temperature this Christmas weekend was way down in the low- to mid-50s, and around these parts that means it's time to break out the snowflake sweaters, earflappy-hats and chunky knit scarves. I may be a knitter, but for whatever reason, I've never made anything in any of these categories that I deemed wearable. So, with the exception of my pride-and-joy fair isle gloves hastily finished the winter I was heavy with The Boy so that I could commence with the baby projects, my winter go-tos are all store-bought. 

Except, now, for this scarf. I've long claimed 55° to be my ideal temperature (it's actually more like the low 60s, but saying 55° makes me feel heartier), so bundling up in winter woolens now would be an admittance of weakness. Like how, after all those years in Seattle spent snickering at bumbershoot-toting tourists, the mere existence of an umbrella in our home brings me hot, red-faced shame. And yet, I like the look of winter, of people dressed in defense against cold weather, armed with snuggly textiles in bright hues. And there have been times in the past when I donned a scarf in centrally-heated conditions, nuzzling my nose in the cowled loops of a light scarf just for the sheer comfort of it. So seeing all these people in cool weather gear has sent me searching for solace in fabric odds and ends. 

(This post, believe it or not, is actually about our favorite Christmas gifts this year. So how it is that I've already spent this much web-space on a scarf I made for myself, and how I still haven't gotten to the actual creation of the thing, is really beyond me. You know that little bit of categorization on the side there, where it says "things that… I ramble about"… Yeah, I'm going to have to get rid of that soon, because, yeah, I know, this whole site is things that I ramble about. But, of course, I digress.)

This scarf was a scrap trimmed off from a throw, itself comprised of fabric scraps, I made for Mr. New Media for our new couch, whose color is incongruous with the rest of the room, but whose shape and style and price made it something we decided to live with. The blanket is bits of gray t-shirts and some flannel on one side, the reverse a patchwork of fabric reclaimed from promotional tote bags and napkins and tamale packaging with some muslin to fill it out. To get the two sides to size up, I had to trim off some of the t-shirt side, and what came off seemed perfectly suited to assuage my scarf-envy.


The throw was, admittedly, one of those things I really made for myself under the guise that it was a Christmas gift for my husband. I know this, he knows this. It's all good, because he got some other gifts, notably the Gocco prints I purchased in support of his Radiolab fanboy-ness, that were actually about his interests. 

For his part, the husband gifted me with some interesting crafty gear that has left me with a resolve to do more with ink and film. But, so far, what I've been enjoying most the past few evenings is this stampset Mr. New Media picked off my wish list (good boy) and, I kid you not, some empty cardboard boxes left on our porch alongside some linzer cookies and cranberry relish while we lazed in our post-unwrapping stupor. 


Oh, how happy I've been, imagining up little stories to accompany the days of the people who inhabit these little blocks. The boy received a barn playset equipped with all the usual farm animals, and another little playset with horses and ponies. But I suddenly realized that our play room notably lacks little people to pose and create lives for. Sure, there are the few Lego people in the mix, but they came prefabbed, complete with equestrian regalia and farmer coveralls. Their stories have already been painted on. I'm I thinking I need to find or make some fresh little people who wouldn't feel so out of place making their lives and livelihoods in these little buildings.

Box town

Boxes stamped with Yellow Owl Workshop's Cityscape set. Very happy-making. Read more about me at



I've done my time in office environments. There are times I actually miss the structure, camaraderie, and ready access to vending machines. And there are days the kids have me so haggard I would actually prefer the company of a receptionist with anger management issues or even, dare I say it, sales people. On the other hand, there are the postscript errors generated by outdated computers that a skinflint newspaper company refuses to upgrade, the harried requests for work on spec that seemingly need to be completed before work for paying clients, the misguided idea that anything good has ever come out of a meeting.  Thankfully, these are no longer vignettes in my day-to-day life. On the list of things I relish about not having officemates is the lack of going away/birthday/wedding/generally congratulatory cards floating around my workspace that obligate me to conceive something sweet and pithy for someone I only half care about. 

Unfortunately, this uncongeniality towards cards has carried on to our personal greeting-sending. In past years, our commitment to holiday card posting has been full of intention, short of actualization. We have, squirreled away with our wrapping accoutrements, boxes of greeting cards, some cute, some sweet, some poignant, some with monkeys, most unopened. There were a few stand-out years when we actually managed to sit ourselves down at the dining table and, with zombie-like concentration, dash out a few signatures and addresses and semi-personalized messages. Most years, we're happy if we manage to toss in a hastily signed card with our outgoing holiday packages.


Last year, deciding on a new tack, I designed and Gocco-printed up our own cards, and somehow that motivated us to actually fill them out and get them delivered. Probably because once you Gocco something, it NEEDS to be sent out into the world. Otherwise, it'd just be a big ol' waste of screens and bulbs and inks, all finite resources in this post-Gocco economy. And I did the same for this year, printing onto some of that paperboard I've been hoarding. I love how the paper takes the ink, keeping lines crisp and color rich. Last year's cards were printed onto watercolor paper, which resulted in bleedy prints, the ink sending out little tendrils into the paper fibers, an effect I didn't entirely mind. Still, I like these better. The kraft paper look appeals to me. And there are little variances in color and texture that lend it a natural interest and offer the ink something to catch against. Gocco and paperboard are a happily natural fit.


To solve for the lack of copy-space on the inside of the cards, with images of organic cereal Os and all, I attached a small envelope to tuck away photographic goodies for family. And maybe one of those ornaments we made up last week. And maybe some other flat-ish token for those people who wouldn't necessarily squeal in delight at a chance to own a picture of our children, ablur from the incurable inability to both be still for the split second it takes to snap a photograph. On the facing side, we'll attach a greeting or family message of some sort, printed onto the vellum cardstock we've had stashed away since we printed our wedding invitations ten years ago. The vellum's translucence allows some of the packaging imagery to show through, which makes it fun, I think. No sense trying to disguise the fact that these cards once held our breakfast makings. 

So, yeah, I'm pretty excited about sending these out this year. Now to compile the little goodies to fill those little envelopes.




The happiest day of the year for me isn't Christmas or my birthday or the first day of school, when all those pesky kids stop running errant through the neighborhood all aclamor with a lack of real responsibility. No. The happiest day of the year is the one when that crotchety UPS woman arrives at my door with the bottles that I will proceed to fill with goodness, alcoholic and otherwise, for the coming gifting season. 

The first year we bottled up the liqueurs, we went around town, touring all the boutique-y cookware shops (plus our beloved Archie McPhee's, oh how I miss thee) and managed to eke out a very small number of bottles of the cork top variety. Those bottles ended up costing more than the supplies for the liqueurs themselves, and shipping proved a nerve-racking endeavor. So sourcing an affordable and consistent bottle supply became an early priority for the next year's batch. And that's how I came across this outfit, which I have since dubbed the Happiest Company Ever. 

Mr. New Media will readily attest that I'm a sucker for empty bottles, boxes, tins, jars, things that hold other things. Some people can't walk by a mirror without checking themselves out. I can't pass an unfamiliar box without cracking it open and maybe taking a whiff (I'm also always smelling things... how weird is that?). So when I open that box that Ms. UPS gruffly plops on my doorstep, it's like I'm revisiting a collection of old baby photographs. I pull each one out tenderly, marvel at its perfect little cuteness, sometimes letting tears well up. Happiest day of the year. 


A close second is the day we fill the bottles with the good stuff. Now, the world is made up of two classes of people. The upper strata is comprised of those who can perfectly and effortlessly decant liquid from one vessel to another without making a sploshy mess, rivers of liquid dribbling down the sides and puddling in a sad little mess on the counter. These people can also usually manage to put a fresh garbage bag in the can without it ballooning outward and inward and in every which manner save the one in which trash can actually be stored. I am not so blessed. So the task of transferring the liqueurs from the large glass canning jars to those happy little bottles falls squarely on Mr. New Media. He's happy enough to do it because (1) it's his sole responsibility in the whole holiday making arena, and (2) because it may be his only chance to sample the liqueurs for himself. So now our bumper crop of liqueurs are all huddled together all cute and innocently awaiting deployment to the gift-receiving public.

Happy, happy, happy.


I'm particularly smitten with the tags which I created using a few of my favorite things (cue Julie Andrews): the Gocco, reclaimed paperboard and blackboard paint (what can't it do?). Oh, I'm on a roll with this paperboard stuff. Can't get enough of it. When I informed Mr. New Media of the New World Order, the one in which we'd be putting aside all cereal boxes, cracker boxes, the envelopes our photo prints arrive in, instead of sending them to the recycling bin, his eyes glassed over with that you're-crazy-but-I'll-just-smile look he gives me. And he gave me the yes-dear nod. And he promptly forgot. And then ensued a few weeks of me picking things out of the recycling whilst cursing that good-for-nothing-husband of mine. But now there's a bulgy bag in the corner of my already over-stimulating (read: cluttered) workspace just waiting for crafty things to happen. Which should be any moment now.

Miniature goodness


There was a time, pre-kids, pre-marriage, pre-Houston, pre-asthma, when I was a smoker. I took it up in college to satisfy a serious need for vice. That and for something to do during breaks in classes. It was never one of those buy by the carton-full, wake up thinking cigarettes, strike out in the middle of the night for a pack, kind of addictions. I kicked it pretty handily a few years later, married and having recently purchased a condo whose carpeting and poor circulation brought to the fore my apparent allergy to the cat I'd owned for four years. My lung capacity, reduced to nil, somehow dampened the appeal of the cigarette buzz, and it was an easy tradeoff to make for the promise of a wheeze-free lifestyle. 

But the accoutrements. There was the lighter, cool and scary, looking uncannily like a mini flamethrower. Even pre-9/11 I didn't dare bring it near an airport. And the cigarette case, just a simple metal tin that would hold all twenty in two neat little rows. When They talk about the glamorization of smoking, it's this stuff that they're really referring to. The lighter and case were dangerous and sexy. The cigarettes themselves… meh. So when I restructured this particular vice out of my life, the hardest part was boxing up the paraphernalia. But that's probably just my own version of addiction.

It's been a near-decade of family-building since then, and when I unboxed the cigarette case after our last move, I saw it differently. If I was struck with a sudden urge to smoke, it was only so the case could see some action again. I just had too much fondness for it to be stashed in a drawer or tossed or given away. And so, while I examined it for possible re-uses, it struck me. I had The Best Idea I've Ever Had. An eight-pack of crayons would fit perfectly in one half of the case, the other half ideal for holding little bits of discarded paper, business cards, anything one could take a crayon to. And there I had it. The perfect little on-the-go kid diversion kit.


This year, for holiday kid-gifting, I decided to bring The Best Idea I've Ever Had to the masses. I opted for Altoids-style tins over actual cigarette cases, simply because they were easier to source. However, an assortment of your typical crayons doesn't really fit into the candy tins. And putting twenty cents worth of crayons in a tin with some discarded business cards isn't much of a gift. So this is where I went a little crazy with ambition. I could mold my own crayons using one of those silicone ice cube trays. And stitch together little moleskine-y notebooks. And the wholesale tins need some kind of embellishment… chalkboard paint. Which of course needs chalk, which would also need molding. The easiest part would be cutting felt swatches for an eraser. 


The Best Idea I've Ever Had has been in progress for months. Many, many months of working in fits and starts, sometimes melting down crayons, sometimes cursing over the consistency of the chalk, sometimes scrounging for cardboard to cover the notebooks, sometimes painting and sanding and repainting the tins, sometimes being overwhelmed by the whole endeavor and pushing it aside for weeks. Enthusiasm and inspiration come and go as I take on other projects that are either more pressing or smaller in scope. But the other day, as I assembled another little batch of notebooks, I got really excited about it again. Something about lining up the notebooks, clad in cut-up cracker boxes and artist tape, finally having enough of each component to see it all together, made me think how much I would have wanted this as a kid. A compact box full of miniature goodness to be squirreled away in pockets or stored under pillows as munitions in the childish, flashlit rebellion of staying up later than you're supposed to. Who knew I could package all that in a little kit?

All lit up


It used to be that the parents were the hardest to drum up gift ideas for. Which is why ours have curio shelves and mantles stocked with miscellaneous vases and bowls and clocks and herb gardens that look great on the catalog page but, let's face it, offer very little use. Now that we've made grandparents out of the mums and pops, gift giving has gotten much easier. Step 1: get kid to draw a picture, pose for a photo, stamp his hand in paint or clay or pile of dryer lint. Step 2: frame it, if applicable. Step 3: mail it off. Do grandparents actually appreciate it? Who cares? It'd be terrible form for any grandparent to look unfavorably upon these presents. 

Here's the #1 lesson I've learned from the 2+ years that The Boy has been in the daily care of others: Parents will continue to gladly bring home the same old "art class" nonsense and stick it on the fridge as long as (1) their child made it and (2) if there has been some cursory attempt made to change it up a bit (i.e., strategically adding some squigglies so that this handprint looks like a horse instead of a fish). So here it is, grandparent gift cop-out #833: The Brownie Light Box. 


You'll need:

Battery-operated tea light (I've seen both flickering and non-flickering options -- choose wisely)

Cardboard brownie box (should be at least 1.5" deep, or enough to accommodate your particular light)

3.5" square template for the cutout (I made mine with cardboard from another box)

1/8" double sided tape

Colored artist tape (think colored masking tape, washi tape would be pretty sweet, if you can swing it)

X-acto knife


Rotary cutter or scissors


Step 1: Assemble the art

We used a thick vellum paper, because that's what we have around. A piece of acetate backed with wax paper, or white parchment would work just as well. Something nice and translucent (sunprints would also be quite nice). Hand the kid watercolors/pastels/markers/crayons/glitter/pencils and take them away before too much craziness ensues. Cut two 4" squares.


Step 2: Prepare the box

Carefully open the box and scrape off any excess glue. Lay it out flat and measure the width of the box from side crease to side crease. My box was 5.25" wide, so I marked and cut the bottom of the box off 5.25" down from the top to make it square.


Step 3: Cut the openings

On the blank side of the box, trace your template for the cutout in the middle of both of the large panels. I'm a big fan of the eyeball method, but you could, you know, measure it out for greater centered-ness. Using a straight edge and X-acto, cut out the holes.

lightbox6.jpg  lightbox7.jpg

Step 4: Affix the art

Apply the double sided tape to the printed side of the box as close to the opening as possible. Make sure not to leave any gaps, so no light peeks through once the art is attached. Remove sticky backing and attach the art, artwork side facing the hole.

lightbox8.jpg  lightbox9.jpg

Step 5: Close the box

Pre-bend the box creases, so it folds nicely with the printed side on the inside. Lay a couple strips of double sided tape on the blank side of the box tab, and, being careful not to warp or twist the box, attach the tab to the inside of opposite side. Fold in the smaller top tabs and apply one last strip of double sided tape to one of the longer top tabs. Seal it up, again making sure not to twist the box.


Step 6: Tape it up

Apply the colored tape(s) of your choice to the sides of the box, tucking the tape ends inside the box.


That's it. Turn on the tea light, plop the box on top and call it a present. I suppose you could also turn it upside down, attach string and use it in a hanging capacity. Easy peasy. You've just (1) made some kid-generated art, (2) rescued a box from the recycling bin, and (3) created something for the curio cabinet that Grandma will never be able to take down. Because what heartless grandparent would do that?