Monthly Archives: June 2012

lacma with kids


All this past week, LACMA offered free admission for residents in zip codes along the transport route of the big rock.  That was us!  It has probably been 10 years since I have last been to LACMA, so I used the “free” excuse to load up the kids (my two youngest are ages 5 and 8), along with a good friend, and drive to LA too see the museum.  Earlier in the week, another friend asked if LACMA was kid friendly, and I said yes!  But now I have a first-hand account.  Here’s what appealed to my kids:

The first thing my kids saw was this outdoor sculpture.  It’s called Penetrabile by Jesus Rafael Soto, and it has long plastic tubing hanging down that you can walk through.  My kids called it the spaghetti scultpure.  It was a fun sensory experience.  We passed this way several times, and my kids were always excited to give it another try.

LACMA has lots of funky outdoor sculpture and installations.  These were by far the things my kids enjoyed the most.  They had fun chasing each other through Chris Burden’s “Urban Light” installation:

We all were fascinated by the way the wind and water moved Alexander Calder’s stabile grouping, “Hello Girls“:

We also loved talking about, interacting with, and making up stories about other sculpture:

Another fun, but kind of stinky, thing to do was to walk over to the La Brea Tar Pits.  My daughter couldn’t believe the way the pits bubbled and popped (she was sure an alligator was going to jump out and scare us).  My son was fascinted by the recreations of mammoths in the pit (he wanted to go to the Page Museum next door instead!).

And, then, of course, was the installation we came for: “Levitated Mass” by Michael Heizer.  This was easily our favorite.  My youngest son was absolutely fascinated.  We had to walk under it both ways.  He was brave enough to stand underneath for some time.  Then we had to walk around on either side of it so he could touch it.  He enjoyed the rock, and he loved the channel.  In fact, we all really enjoyed the experience of the rock.

 The kids grew more impatient each time we went into the painting galleries, so we kept those forrays short and interspersed between the outdoor installations.  I did get to spend a few good moments with LACMA’s Cezanne’s (my favorite artist), but as the selections here are far from his best work, a few moments were enough (this time).  We breezed through the European galleries, and glanced at some wonderful Indian art, and poked our heads in the different buildings just to get some flavor of the other cultural art, but, as I said, the kids tired of this much quicker.  Still, we got some exposure and discussion, and I’ll just have to keep working on it.

I had looked online ahead of time for what options they had available for kids, and the website mentions that you can check out a family guide with art cards.

 But when I asked about it at the ticket booth, the employee didn’t seem to know what I was talking about.  He directed me to the kids room instead.  I figured I would ask another person about it later, but we were kept so busy that I never felt the need.  Still, I think something like these cards would have helped the kids enjoy the inside galleries a little more.  As for the kids room, I’m glad we didn’t start with it, as it made a perfect break in the middle of our day.

In this room, the kids were offered paper and brushes, and they could sit and create their own watercolor paintings.   My children made three or four paintings and we sat and relaxed for about half an hour.  This room was definitely a highlight of our day.

After three hours at the museum, we were all pretty tired, but there was one more thing I wanted my kids to see (having read about it on the website beforehand): Chris Burden’s “Metropolis II.”  We were just in time to see it turned on again, and it was spellbinding:

The website calls it “an intense kinetic sculpture, modeled after a fast paced, frenetic modern city.”  Indeed, I had to look away for periods of time because it made me feel dizzy.  But the kids really, really LOVED this.  And then, to end the day, we explored one more installation in the room next to Metropolis.  This was called “Band,” by Richard Serra, but my youngest child called it the volcano rooms (because of the shape and color).

“Band” was a massive installation of undulating walls that curved in on themselves making different caves and rooms.  The kids ran in and out and danced around (the echoes were nearly deafening in the interior spaces–adding to the appeal, of course).  And after nearly four hours in and around the museum, we called it quits for the day.  We barely scratched the surface of all the exhibits (especially the indoor ones), but we were catering to the kids, and I know that they had a positive and memorable experience.


poppies that pop


I get a lot of praise for the poppies on these doors (one door leads to my pantry, the other to the garage), mainly because they assume I painted them.  People give me more credit than I deserve.  But I thank them, graciously, for the compliment and then point out that these are decals.  Super easy!

You can buy this set of stickers at Ikea for only $10.  I just went to their website to find this item to link up to it, and it wasn’t there.  They have other decals to look at, but not these poppies.  The link I provided is to Ikea in England.  I did see that my Ikea in Covina had some on their shelves just last week, so I’m assuming this product is still in the stores, even if it is not on their website.

I think these poppies give my kitchen just the right amount of “pop” against the black and white and green.  They make me happy every time I see them!

behind closed doors and drawers


This is my new kitchen.  My old kitchen had the same basic layout, except that instead of an island, there was a pennisula (it was a U-shaped kitchen), and the cabinets were small (drawers were practically non-existant) and inefficient.  Also, my pantry consisted of a closet with some basic shelves on which we stacked and crammed as much food (and food storage) as possible.  I always hated coming home with the groceries and trying to find places to put everything.

This is my new cabinet where the old pantry was:

Isn’t it beautiful?  And the thing is, I don’t even store food here anymore!  It’s my small appliances storage, and I LOVE IT!  The shelf/drawers all pull out for easy access.

 My new pantry, using space from the garage and my old living room, is a little walk-in beauty!  Putting away groceries has never been so quick and easy.  There is a place for everything.  This picture is from several months ago, after we moved back in.  I now have twice as much food stored in there, and I still feel like I could double it.  (It turns the corner behind the door, so there really is lots of storage space.)  This has to be one of my favorite additions in our remodeled home.I also have a few other space saving secrets behind more of the closed doors and drawers.  Take a peek!

Cookie sheets, cake pans, and other baking supplies.  We’re all tall in this house, so the space over the refrigerator worked perfect for these storage racks.

What to do with that left over space between the sink and the corner cabinet?  A pull-out rack for my cleaning supplies has been perfect!  Bonus: it is difficult for young children to pull out, so hard for them to access these potions.

I love my two-tiered silverware drawer.  And I love the custom divisions that let me pile up way more than those store-bought silverware holders.  The top slides back for easy access to extra silverware and serving pieces underneath.

I’m also in raptures over my custom baking supplies drawer (in my island).  Spatulas, whisks, measuring cups and spoons, even the rolling pin all have their own cubbies.  Now if I could only teach my kids to be consistent about putting things away in their proper spaces…

I am delighted at how much more efficient my new kitchen is.  I’m sure there are lots of other new-fangled space-saving devices I could have used, but so far, this kitchen is working just fine for the way I live and cook.

talking with cats


I read a lot, and I usually have a nice stack of books waiting for me at all times, but every once in a while I get to the bottom of the stack before my new books come on hold at the library.  Such a thing happened this week (okay, it’s true that I have my next book club book waiting for me, “Cutting for Stone,” but I’m not quite ready to start that one), so I started browsing the stacks at the library looking for a few things that I could take home right away.  I was in the mood for some YA fantasy, so I was scoping out likely titles in that section when I noticed the shelf of new YA books sitting apart.  They were bright and shiny and tempting.  Two different titles caught my eye, and a glance at both dust jackets convinced me to take both home.


I started with Pauley’s “Cat Girl’s Day Off,” since I was a little more suspicious of that title, but I was quickly sucked in by the quirky characters, hillarious chatter, and outragous plot.  I finished the book in one day.  The next day I started Cashman’s “The Exceptionals.”  After only a few pages, I couldn’t believe what a strange coincidence it was that the two books I randomly picked up off the new YA book shelf at the library both had to do with families that have special abilities (talents, superpowers) that are impressive, while the daughter in each book has a talent that seems weak and embarrassing: talking to animals.  The books are really quite different in every other sense, but, really, what are the odds?  In the first book, Natalie can only communicate with cats, while Claire, in “The Exceptionals” can hear all animals (in fact, it’s the cat who gives her the most trouble, mainly because of its attitude, but that’s the point with cats, right?).  And, oh wow, now that I’m writing about it, I realize that the book I read right before these two (a queer little juvenile book titled “Sunshine Picklelime”) also had the main character, a girl, that could communicate with animals–strange trend.

Anyway, “Cat Girl’s Day Off” is set in contemporary Chicago, in a world in most ways like our own, except that certain people have special “talents,” as they’re called here, but are more like superpowers.  For example, in Natalie’s family, her older sister has three super cool Talents, including being a human lie detector; her younger sister can ‘disappear’ like a chameleon; her mother has a really high IQ and laser vision; and her father’s nose is hypersensitive and he can tell each bit of chemical component in things.  For the most part they live and work among the regular folk and are not much commented on.  Natalie is somewhat embarrassed by her meager talent of talking to cats, and so she keeps it under wraps at her high school (who wants to go through life being known as “cat girl,” right?).  But, when she understands the wailings of a pink cat owned by a celebrity columnist, she gets caught up in a crazy mystery involving kidnapping, mistaken identities, and the filming of an homage movie to John Hughes and “Ferris Bueler’s Day Off.”  The pacing is madcap and the writing is witty and often hysterical.  I love the different cats and their attitudes.

On the other hand, “The Exceptionals” is a much more serious affair.    Claire also has a family with “special” abilities, like telekinesis, clairvoyance, and the ability to talk with ghosts.  They all live and work at or attend Cambrial Academy, a school where those with exceptional talents can practice them in an environment of safety and secrecy.  Claire finds her “special” so humiliating that after a childhood of feeling like she was looked down on, she pretends that she has lost her ability, and so gets sent to regular school.  Unfortunately, as a sophmore, she gets in trouble, and her parents decide it’s time for her to attend Cambrial Academy after all, even without a “special.”  About the same time, some of the most exceptional  students start disappearing, and Claire has to learn how to refine her talent to see if she can use it to help the school, her family, and even the world.  It is not as unique as the other book, but the writing is competent and the characters are fleshed out enough for me to connect with and care about them.  I love it that Claire tries to hone her skills on the principal’s cat, but that cat does not trust her at all, and repeatedly dismisses her and taunts her.  It’s a small moment, but pretty funny.  In the end, she connects with a hawk and its baby instead.

Both books were good and I might have given both about four stars, but “Cat Girl’s Day Off” had something a little more special, to my tastes, and I was tickled by the talking cats, so I gave it five stars.  “The Exceptionals” paled a bit in comparison, and I think it will ultimately bemore forgettable, so I down-graded my review to three and 1/2 stars.  I’d recommend either one, depending on your mood and reading tastes, as both are solid stories and well-written.  But I definitely give the edge to that silly pink cat.

whack me with a spoon


So my five year old was walking around the other day and talking in a monotone voice.  He kept saying:

Whack me with a spoon.
Whack me with a spoon.

When I finally realized what he was saying, I stopped him and asked him why he was saying it.  Did he really want me to whack him with a spoon?

No, Mom, he says… he is just talking like the 80s Robot in the new Muppet movie.

Ha ha.  I get it.  So I correct him.

It’s not WHACK me with a spoon, but GAG me with a spoon.  Try explaining that slang phrase to a five year old…

Grody to the max was a little easier.

a lion in wait


I have always wanted a grand piano, a dream that has recently come true for me (see earlier post).  And somewhere, in that dream, I also wanted a stone lion curled up underneath that gorgeous hunk of black wood.  I have always had a thing for cats (okay, it’s a minor obsession), but I guess a GRAND piano needed a GRAND cat, so I’ve always pictured a lion.  A few years back, long before I knew a grand piano would be a reality, I found a wonderful looking lion statue at Big Lots.  It was plaster of paris (or some other non-stone carving) and it was painted a dark grey, but it was a nice size and shape, and I knew I wanted it.  But, fair cheapskate that I am, I was not ready to pay the $50 (or more) asking price.  So I waited until the end of the summer season, and when they were 50% off and they still had about five lions in stock, I gambled again and waited for 75% off.  Luck was with me, and I finally snatched up my beauty for a nice discount.

Of course I didn’t have a piano to put it under at the time.  In fact, I really didn’t have any room anywhere in my house, so it sat among the potted plants on my front porch.  By the time we packed him up with the rest of our stuff for our house remodel, he was looking a little beat up.  The paint was flaking off all over, and he was dented and chipped in several places.  I got some patching plaster and filled in the missing gaps, then bought a can of Krylon Make It Stone! Textured Paint, Black Granite color (with 40% off coupon of course).  It covered nicely and evenly, and it made my lion look brand new!  In fact, he looked better than he did when I bought him.  I am a great fan of spray paint!  I also added a coat of clear varnish sealer to help keep him looking good.

Before piano day, the lion happily guarded my fireplace, and I really loved him there.   But my dream had always been for him to live under my grand, and I’m happy to say he is perfectly at home there too!  Isn’t it nice when things work out just the way they are supposed to?

scrapping the digi way


I enjoy digital scrapbooking, and my favorite site for inspiration and products is the Shabby Shoppe.   They have such fun papers and digital kits (lots for free download), and I also really enjoy their scrapping challenges, like the one pictured above: template challenge 24.  Here’s what I did with it:

The templates are always 12″ x 12″ square, but I prefer scrapping in a 8-1/2″ x 11″ format, since I print out the pages to insert in the plastic sleeves of my kids’ memory books.  So it is always a bit of a challenge trying to figure out how I am going to adapt the square design into a rectangular one.   This time, I thought the zig zag pattern looked like it would be a nice background for a climbing picture, so I zoomed in on that part of the design.  I used papers from several different Shabby Shoppe kits and liked how they all blended together with my photos.  There are some super talented scrappers on that site and it can sometimes be intimidating, but I just go with my own style (and I’m one of the rare ones who scraps in the rectangular format) and enjoy it for my own purposes.

Here are a few more pages that I enjoyed putting together:

This one I made up on my own.

This was another template challenge.

This one was for a speed scrap challenge, which are the most fun to me. I actually won a prize for this page!


picking pectin


My mom came over on Saturday to help me tackle two flats of strawberries and our annual freezer jam marathon.  I personally cleaned and cut all two flats of strawberries and did my share of mashing (when I couldn’t persuade my daughter or hubbie to take a turn at the masher).  My mom did all the boiling and mixing.  Together we made 9 batches of jam!!  Whew.  Here’s my share:

Aren’t they pretty?  I could show you all the steps to making freezer jam, but it’s really super easy (clean, mash, boil water & pectin + sugar, mix in berries, pour into jars) and you just need to follow the directions in the pectin box.

What I really want to address, is WHICH pectin to use.  My mom is a big fan of Sure Jell, but it is one of the more expensive ones, so this time I tried Ball Pectin.  Both of the brands were for low or no sugar.  I have also tried other cheaper varieties, but they have not set well.  My mom used 4 boxes of Sure Jell for her flat of berries, and I used one 4.7 oz. container of the Ball pectin.  The main differences were in the proportions.  Each Sure Jell box calls for 4 cups of mashed berries to 3 cups of sugar + 1 cup of water.  You mix the sugar, water and pectin together and bring it to a boil.  This way everything dissolves nicely.  Then you add the strawberries and pour into containers.  Each recipe filled four 8oz. jars (or double of 4oz. jars).  You are also not supposed to double the recipe.

With the Ball pectin, it called for 3 cups of mashed berries to 1-3/4 cups juice or water (we tried it with apple juice) + up to 3 cups of sugar.  We decided to use just under 2 cups of sugar to keep a similar ratio to the Sure Jell.  It tasted plenty sweet.  I like that you can adjust to your personal preferences, even using NO SUGAR at all.  I’m not quite that healthy, so we were fairly generous with the sugar.  In this case, the recipe called for boiling the pectin (3 Tbls. per recipe) and juice, and then adding the sugar (not boiling it), and then the berries.  My mom worried that the sugar wouldn’t dissolve well, but we had no problems.  We made 5 batches with my container of pectin, and it looks like I have about 1 Tbls. left over.  Because we used only 3 cups of berries, each recipe only filled 3 jars.  This meant more work in the long run.  However, the instructions said you CAN double this recipe (up to 10 jars, it says, so I guess you could triple the recipe).  We didn’t try it because my mom said she got in a rhthym of proportions and didn’t want to have to rethink it.  Next time I would definitely try it because that would save a lot of time!

When we were all done, my mom’s Sure Jell jams were pretty well set already.  My Ball jams were still runny.  The Sure Jell calls for setting the jars on the counter at room temperature for 24 hours before freezing.  The Ball wants you to refridgerate for several hours (no more than 24, it says) before freezing.  I put my jams in the fridge overnight, and they were perfectly set this morning.  Most importantly, both jams taste great!  My mom got her Sure Jell on sale for about $3.50 a box (it is often more than that), and I bought my container for about $7 (maybe a little less).  That’s about the double the cost for the Sure Jell for the same amount of jam.  So there you have it.  If you are looking to save a little money, I think going with the Ball pectin is a smart choice.

The best thing, though, is seeing my freezer full of lovely jam for the coming year!

boysenberry crisp


We have these wonderful thornless boysenberry bushes in our yard, and every year when the berries are ripe, my favorite thing to make is my boysenberry crisp.  (After we graze on the fresh berries as we pick them, of course!)
So today I am going to share my recipe.  It is super easy, and very yummy!  I always get lots of compliments when I bring this dessert to share.

Boysenberry Crisp

  • 1-1/2 cups boysenberries (though I often use even more!)
  • 2 TBS granulated sugar
  • 2 TBS butter
  • 1 cup granulated sugar
  • 1 cup flour
  • 1 tsp baking powder
  • 1 egg

You could toss the 2 TBS sugar with the berries ahead of time, but I usually skip that step and just dump the berries in my lightly greased cooking pan, then sprinkle the sugar on top.  I don’t even stir it up.  Like I said, I usually use extra berries, enough to cover the bottom of the pan with at least a double layer.  But then we have an abundance of berries to use!  I never increase the sugar, but you can see that it covers sufficiently as is.  Perhaps you may even want to decrease the sugar if you use less berries.  Then I dot 2 TBS of butter on top.

The next part does need to be done in a separate bowl.  Mix the last four ingredients with a fork, until it resembles course crumbs.

I always mix it a little long than I think I should.  You’ll be amazed at how crunchy this topping is!  Just dump it on top of the berries in your pan and pop it in a preheated 350 degree oven.

Bake for 30 minutes.  You can serve it warm with whipped cream or ice cream, but I like it plain, hot or cold.  It is sooooo good!  It’s undoubtedly the fresh berries that are the highlight, but I think the crispy topping complements the berries perfectly.  I also think you could substitute any berries (or combination of berries) you wish.

I completely forgot to take a picture of the dessert when it came out of the oven, but here it is just a little while later after my family (and in-laws) had a serving.  At least they saved me a row to show what it looks like!

ways of seeing


I just started reading a new book last night: a juvenile book called “The Calder Game,” by Blue Balliett.  I’m only about a third of the way into it, but there is one theme that definitely stands out already: different people see the same things in different ways.  The title character, Calder, sees the world as puzzles to be solved.  His friend Petra sees things as word combinations.  His other friend Tommy is an expert collector, and he sees the world in reference to his found objects.  There is also the art of Alexander Calder, his colorful mobiles and stabiles–and how people see his art.  Is it wondrous and amazing, crazy, too modern and bold?  Does it remind them of animals, engineering, air?  This book, at this point anyway, seems to be about ways of seeing and observing.

Whether or not I ultimately think the book is successful, I appreciate that it got me thinking on this theme.  I was reminded of an experience I had the summer before I went to graduate school in art history.  My BA was in the Humanities, with an emphasis in English literature.  I was with a bunch of my friends enjoying an evening at a beach house.  The sun had set and I was sitting looking at the ocean with a friend of mine who was a professional artist.  I have always had a somewhat fearful respect of the ocean.  It kind of scares me, but it’s beautiful too.  When I looked at it that night, I thought of it in terms of its vastness, its power, its persistance.  I saw it as a metaphor.  I saw it in terms of words and emotion.  Then I asked my artist friend what he saw when he looked at the ocean.  I wondered if artists really did see the world differently and if my world view was going to change as I studied art.  His answer was very telling.  “I see light and shadow,” he said.  (Wow.  Revelation!)  He saw the changing colors of greens and blues settle into darker tones muted with black as night came on more fully.  I was amazed.  My eyes were opened!  I had never looked at the world with such visual awareness before.

Today, many years beyond graduate school and semesters of teaching college art history courses at various times, I do see the world differently.  I am still a reader, so I still see things with the broader awareness that books bring.  I still love words and see the world in terms of verbal description.  But now I also love art with a deeper understanding, and I do see the world in terms of line, color and composition.  I see contrast and texture, balance and shape.  And, yes, light and shadow.  I appreciate the fuller perspectives my life and education have given me.  And I also appreciate that different people see the world differently.  That’s what makes life so rich and interesting.