Posts Tagged ‘outdoors’

branch art (post-irene)

our hearts go out to all of our east coast friends who have been dealing with hurricane irene and her aftermath. in our pre-cali stomping grounds of richmond, va, much of the beloved city’s beloved residents have been without power for days and huge trees fell and took out homes, cars, playhouses, etc. the photo below is one that my dear friend in richmond took of a fallen tree in her yard.

photo by amy howarth

this is the scene in many of my friends’ yards right now, and the work of cutting up the trunks and branches has begun. while these trees make for fine firewood for the winter, surely some little parts of these hurricane spoils could be repurposed into lovely branch art, yes?

photo by amy howarth

coincidentally i’ve been drooling over some tree-themed pins in the past few months (cannot. curb. pinterest. addiction.) and it seems that, while hurricanes are often tragic and never desirable, mother nature has left behind some art materials in my friends’ yards. so i’ve decided to share some ideas for how to make art out of this bad situation, for those of you who may have a lot of wood lying around. and a saw. (gosh, i want a saw.)

if you click on the images below, they will take you to the source of the image.

building blocks - i SO want these!

wall art (many other branchy ideas at this link, too)


love these gift tags - or stamp any image onto them & glue a magnet to the back!

i'm seriously making these in the fall (i heart mini-eco!)

weaving between the branches

how stylie are these hooks?

great table!

lovely beads

so beautiful above the bed

earthy candle holders

when life gives you lemons, make lemonade.

when hurricanes give you fallen trees, make branch art!


printer friendly printer friendly

bean sprouts

i just found a batch of bloggy photos that i forgot to blog about earlier this summer – bean sprouts! (oops.) this was such a fun, satisfying, educational activity i remember from my own preschool days, so i thought it’d be fun to do it with N at home.

we picked up some baby lima bean seeds while at whole foods one day.

we soaked a paper towel with water, put it into a ziploc bag, and dropped in a buncha beans. we taped the bag to N’s bedroom window, where she gets full afternoon sunshine.

about a week later once they’d sprouted some roots, we tried two different things with them (because i couldn’t remember what to do next. i’m not a green thumb, people.) we planted half of them into some potting soil to see if they’d sprout green shoots from there.

N even made a cute phoenetic “lima bean” sign for the plants. 🙂

but nothing happened to this batch at all. (yes, i shoulda googled this, admittedly, but it’s all about the experimental method, right? no newfangled internet shortcuts.) meanwhile, the ones left in the sunshiny wet paper towel bag grew all sorts of greenery.

we planted these into a pot in our backyard and nurtured them to grow throughout the summertime….

and they were great, until our snail friends ate them.


printer friendly printer friendly

drawing trees from observation

a few mornings ago, N ran into our bedroom the minute she woke and said, “i need to go outside on the sidewalk with a chair, paper, and crayons right now!” my husband and i rubbed our eyes and asked if she could wait a moment… eventually he threw on some clothes and took her across the street (in her pjs) while i spied on them through the window made breakfast.

she has a mission, and got straight to it (while my husband snapped photos of the process on his iphone. yeah, by now he knows a good blog unfolding when he sees it.)

eventually she shared with him what she was drawing — the tree in our yard.

here’s the beautiful tree in the flesh 🙂

when she was finished, she proudly ran into the house to show me the tree. she loved how the clipboard she used allowed for the little white space at the top, which is where she chose to write her name.

she remarked, “i’ve never drawn a tree like this before. i usually draw a brown rectangle and a puffy green top for a tree, but that’s not what trees look like! THIS is what trees look like! tree trunks have lots of colors in them, and sometimes branches are all scraggled.” later that day (once dressed) she asked to go out in the backyard to make another “realistic drawing.”

this time, the lavender.

and after daddy got home from work, they went down the block again so she could get to know another tree pretty well.

since these bush and tree observations occurred, she has also been sitting outside drawing houses and other plants, and really paying close attention to what her eye sees. another self-motivated art activity, and it’s just so wonderful to watch it all happen!


printer friendly printer friendly

reed pen

on our last day of vacation in the outer banks of north carolina, N found some reeds in the dunes. then she said six words that are music to my ears: “let’s make art out of this!” (i love that she says this A LOT.)

indeed we did, and the creation was all her idea. N said, “can we take this home on the plane? and when we get home, i want to make a pen out of it!” we smuggled the reeds home, and almost immediately upon arrival, we got them out and pondered how to make her pen.

i let her decide how to create this. she asked for a real pen and a feather. we found a ballpoint pen (to take apart) and N chose a feather from our stash.

she had great fun destroying the ballpoint pen to get to the inkwell inside.

she slipped the ink well inside of the longest reed she had. then we put a dot of elmer’s glue inside the other end of the reed to hold the feather in place.


it sure does make a sweet addition to her art materials. the best part of this is that the project was entirely kid-centered and kid-initiated. she sourced materials, thought of the idea, executed, and takes so much pride in the final product.

now if we could just keep the cats from pouncing and chewing on the feather, especially as it’s flitting around while she draws… (speaking of our kitties – happy 10th birthday to one of our kitties today!!!)


printer friendly printer friendly

sandcasting at the beach

our beach vacay has been full of fun… and art! today we tried sandcasting on the beach, which is something i’ve been wanting to do with N for a while now!

i remember doing this when i was in elementary school, but in a sandbox. in retrospect, i now see that my teacher that year was obsessed with the many uses of plaster of paris – fun year! my copy of Ecoart!: Earth-Friendly Art and Craft Experiences for 3-To 9-Year-Olds brought this sandcasting memory back to the forefront a while back, and we finally got around to doing it. we (now) west coasters are all the way on our home coast in the east right now, and since i wasn’t about to fly with the extra poundage that plaster of paris would create, my sister was kind enough to bring some down to our family vacation (via car.) today we toted it to the beach along with an old bucket, stick, and cups for measuring. we began by digging little holes. N discovered that twisting her fist into the sand created the perfect little cups for the small paperweights we were intending to make. she and her teenage cousin, G, created several of these pockets in the sand.

then N helped to mix the plaster of paris concoction. then she and her cousin chose shells to line the bottoms of the holes (which would become the decorative tops of our paperweights.)

i poured the plaster into the holes, hoping it would level off on top to be somewhat flat and smooth.

then we waited about 20 minutes for the plaster to harden. (it didn’t take that long, but we became engrossed in the task of digging a huge hole – not for plaster.)

meanwhile, our creations were becoming solid…

N came back to check on the plaster and for the big reveal.

score – beach treasures preserved!

the minimal clean up was great – we used old buckets and sticks that could remain plastered. hands rinsed easily in ocean.

the picture below was taken fresh off the beach, but after brushing these off with an old toothbrush, i think they’ll reveal a bit more shell detail. of course, N wants to keep her purple shell one for herself, and we will gift the others to family members who are with us on the trip. i know i’ll be nostalgic for our family beach vacation when looking at these next week, when we’re back to the grind — they make such sweet paperweights or tokens for a summer nature table!


printer friendly printer friendly

painting seashells (atlantic ocean edition)

yes, this is something we do quite a bit (as i bet you do, too) – paint seashells. i’ve blogged on it before, but with shells found in the pacific ocean. we found these in the atlantic, so yeah, it warranted a new blog, right? (humor me – i’m on vacation.) one of the things N was most looking forward to this trip is waking up my mom first thing in the morning to go shelling on the beach before anyone else is up.

beach strolls here in the outer banks of north carolina (on carova beach) are magical in that there are wild horses on the beach and coming right up to our beach house!

check out those horse teeth! naaay!

after the first day of shelling (and horse watching) we rinsed our collection.

we sorted the white and light colored ones out from the others for painting.

we got out some of our travel watercolors (teeny!) and began the fun.

such a sweet time together.

beautiful creations, and many more left to be painted as the week goes on!

happy beachcombing to you all this summer, should you find yourselves along the shore!


printer friendly printer friendly

family portraits

after a white-chocolate-chip-and-raspberry-gluten-free-pancake breakfast a couple sundays ago, N was lured outside by the sight of her easel. still in her pjs, she requested paint (tempera) and a jacket (summer mornings are chilly in the bay area.) she got down to the business of being the artist she is.

the day before, i had the pleasure of a mom’s day out in san francisco, where three friends and i visited the SFMOMA gertrude stein exhibit and treated ourselves to lunch at cafe gratitude and crazy flavored ice creams at humphry slocombe. mmm… i digress (as ice cream makes me do.) while at the museum, i picked up a matisse post card to bring back to N since she couldn’t be with me that day. (i’ll be bringing her back to the exhibit this summer, for sure! she’d love all the matisse, picasso, cĂ©zanne, etc.)

postcard i got for N: henri matisse, femme au chapeau, 1905; oil on canvas. image from wikipedia

N said she was “so inspired by the postcard of the lady” so she wanted to paint portraits “with weird colors, like matisse did.” she asked me to be her first model. i had to sit still on a chair in our backyard while she painted me, with “weird colors.”

notice the matisse in the lower right corner

next, my pj-clad husband was asked to sit for his portrait. and he (and his coffee) happily obliged.

i love how focused she was when painting these pieces…

next, the artist asked to be the model – and she wanted me to paint her portrait. whenever i make art alongside my daughter, i do so in her “artistic handwriting,” so to speak, as a way of communicating that i am witnessing and supporting her. this also gently thwarts a child’s natural tendency to compare. (to read more on these ideas, visit a blog i wrote on how to talk to your children about art.)

after these, N made quick portraits of both of our cats, who were watching from inside the screen door. we hung these to dry on our clothesline art-drying line in the play shed, while N admired her work.

this master-in-the-making was quite proud of this exhibit!



printer friendly printer friendly

a ball of homemade ice cream

it is a 4th of july weekend tradition in my family to make homemade ice cream. this dates back to my early memories of a huge tub of ice and rock salt and a crank on our back porch as a kid. these days, it’s a lot easier!

not only do we now have fancy ice cream makers for such endeavors (like how we made our lavender honey ice cream creation last summer – yum!) but these days there are ice cream makers that kids can operate. yep, the ice cream ball. have you seen this thing?

it rocks! all we had to do was put ice and rock salt (or sea salt, which we used) into the outside chamber and ice cream ingredients into the inside chamber, play, and eat! N chose vanilla for her ice cream flavor (she’s a simple lady) so we gathered our ingredients.

N stirred everything together in a bowl to pour into the ball. (hers is purple, of course.)

then we ventured out into the yard to roll the ball back and forth to each other for 20 minutes. this was a fun time of singing “big rock candy mountain” and “red red robin.”

we also played “i’m going on a picnic and i’m going to bring…” while going through the alphabet. i still remember the sequence: apple, blueberry, cat, dalmation, egg, flower, gummy bear, horse, ice cream (of course!), janice (from electric mayhem), kite, love, mom, newt, octopus… etc. you get the picture. once we had the ABCs all loaded up for our picnic, we went inside to see if the ice cream had solidified, and it had!

the edges were quite frozen, whereas some of the ice cream in the center of the chamber was still a little soft-serve-ish. didn’t matter. we served up some into our bowls, and also put some in tuperware to bring over to our neighbor, who was curiously watching us roll the ball back and forth.

deeeelish! happy 4th of july to all and happy two year blog-iversary to yesterday! (this treat was even better than having a gluten-free birthday cake!)





printer friendly printer friendly

garden mosaic stepping stone

mosaics have been near and dear to my heart since my first semester of graduate school when i created a lifesize one as part of a semester-long self-exploratory “container project.” we created a small one for my daughter’s bathroom in the early days of this blog, but thought my little treasure-lover would enjoy making one for the backyard.

summer’s here and we’re in outside a lot, so we’ve been sprucing it up with handmade art and splashes of color. recently we created a garden mosaic stepping stone together, and i wrote a guest blog about it for the good hands community. click over to check out our step by step process of how and why we created this piece.

the theme of our mosaic was around this quote my mom has shared with me: “there are two lasting bequests we can give our children: one is roots, the other is wings.”

can you tell N had a hand in creating this according to good ol’ ROY G BIV? i adore my little rainbow lover – a girl after my own heart.



printer friendly printer friendly

forest fiesta: redwoods & paperweights

we are so excited to be participating in mommy lab‘s forest fiesta, along with 22 other fabulous bloggers, in celebration of world environment day! with the theme being forests this year, it seemed like a wonderful time to explore the magical woods around us in northern california — the redwoods!

our family took a little drive up to visit muir woods national state park. we told N that we were going to a place where she could hunt for fairies, so she brought along her magnifying glass… of course, when we got there, yetis seemed to dominate her mythical creature search, true to form for our daughter.

we even spent time playing our native american flutes in the forest together while in muir woods… it is such a beautiful experience to play the flute for the trees, and in that sort of earth space. forest fiesta, indeed!

to think about the interconnectedness of the redwood root mass beneath our feet while walking through the forest inspires a sense of awe and reverence for mother nature. to sit upon a redwood’s tree seat and feel your own rootedness, groundedness, and sense of belonging to the earth is a gift. i couldn’t help but think of starhawk’s teachings while we were in the forest, and vowed (again, to myself) to read the spiral dance, as its been sitting on my bookshelf forever.

N was inspired to create her own forest. since we had recently purchased some plaster of paris, i decided that it might serve as a nice forest floor for her project. we mixed up a batch, tinted it with a bit of green acrylic paint (per N’s request) and poured it into a cream carton.

after gathering all sorts of twigs, sticks, and stalks of lavender in the yard, N stuck them down into the plaster of paris.

she sprinkled some small pebbles she found at a local beach on top. we let this sit to harden for about a day and a half, and then N ripped the carton off of the plaster…

to reveal a lovely forest model!

N immediately introduced it to her toy animals, so they could rightfully inhabit the forest.

how many animals can you spy?

we hot glued some felt to the bottom of the forest model so the plaster wouldn’t damage our furniture when N brought it inside to play, and also to use it as a paperweight when the animals finish frolicking about the forest.

happy world environment day to all… and in the spirit of forests (and the wisdom of starhawk) — let’s seedbomb the earth!




printer friendly printer friendly

simple driftwood mobile

today i have the absolute pleasure and honor of guest blogging on one of my super-duper-favorite blogs, mamaroots! chris willow, of mamaroots, is a talented toymaker extraordinaire and such an inspiring writer, healer, and momma!

chris makes these beautiful wooden toys, which bless our home in just about every nook and cranny… so what on earth was i thinking when the art material i shared on her blog was WOOD when i know nearly nothing about woodworking!?? haha! perhaps it is the inspiration of chris and our lovely pacific coastline with its magical driftwood…

but i was called to post this simple driftwood mobile we created as a family. it’s a paired-down, less-is-more version of the beach treasure mobile we shared here last week. don’t you love how mobiles are all about moving in the wind and all about balance? please hop over to mamaroots to check out my guest post over there today.

so easy, so lovely. so perfect for father’s day.

*wink wink*


printer friendly printer friendly

beach treasure mobile

as you know from our recent post, we spent some time along the lovely beaches of the pacific over memorial day weekend, and gleaned a few treasures in our beachcombing. N has always been obsessed with holding and running around with sticks (safe, huh?) so she’s a natural at finding nice driftwood, bringing it to me, and saying, “we have to make art out of this!!!” so what’s a mom to do? make art!

we sorted our findings in the backyard and were inspired by the driftwood, (and of course by the lovely stones we used in the rock picture holder post! i’m still obsessed with making those!)

N decided that she wanted to paint some of the driftwood like we did last summer, ginette lapalme style and create a mobile from them. first, we got some exposure to the power drill, to drill holes across the top of a long piece of driftwood and in the ends of five short pieces. N marked the stick first to show where she wanted the holes to go.

then we were ready to paint, al fresco!

the two of us had so much fun striping these wooden sticks.

as we painted, we chatted about the wood and “what colors it was telling us that it wanted to have on it.” one of N’s pieces wanted light pink at the bottom (which she learned to mix for herself) because it looked like a ballerina’s slipper.


we let the sticks dry in the sun – so very pretty! (i’m a sucker for rainbows and natural materials.)

after the sticks were dry, we laid out a plan for the mobile. the next morning, a pj-clad N helped to thread the cord through the sticks, a rock, and a couple shells.

i used knots to secure everything in place.

the whole family is smitten with the outcome of this project…


so much so that we chose to hang it in our tall stairwell so we can enjoy seeing it from all angles, watching it twirl around.

i’m in love with the shamanic look of this piece – now i feel like we need to make more of them as gifts and for our backyard!



printer friendly printer friendly