Let’s hear it for the little guys!

My undying love of A.C. Moore is no secret — how can you not love an enormous craft store that ALWAYS has a 40% coupon? But it is not always so convenient to trek out to the land of strip malls  every time you have a crafting emergency (yes, some of us DO have those!).

So today when I found out that I needed to procure some acrylic paint within the next 18 hours, I decided to stop into this little art shop right in Needham Center called The Art Emporium.

Oh. My. God. Somehow this tiny store manages to have a paint selection that rivals A.C. Moore, plus the coolest and most unusual art supplies. I walked out with crayons for dry erase boards (which are odorless and do not stain clothes, unlike the pens) and pastel dye sticks for fabric. They also have henna kits, chalk board markers, garden stepping stone kits, Shrinky Dinks, an endless supply of felt, temporary tattoos, PRETTY sticker books, paper mache picture frames and boxes to decorate… I could go on and on.

It’s basically all of the good stuff from A.C. Moore MINUS the aisles of fake flowers, toys, and holiday-themed junk PLUS less mainstream but far more interesting stuff. It kind of reminded me of the old Ken Kaye Crafts on Washington Street in Newton — which I LOVED as a kid but sadly is out of business now. And now I’ve heard that Pearl in Central Square, where I bought all of my supplies in college, has closed, too.

While huge chain stores are convenient, it feels so much better to give my business to an independent store in my home town. So if you are the artsy-crafty type, please check out this little shop and help them stick around!

My, er — vintage — craft supplies

Those of us who are crafty tend to have basements and closets filled with bins and boxes of our accumulated supplies: stamps, glitter glue, beads, colored pencils, paints… you name it.

My stash, which includes forays into beading, stamping, polymer clay, decoupage, and also all of my college art supplies, has really come in handy since having kids. For example, one day Charlie decided he wanted to make a spy periscope just like he had seen on Curious George, and I was able to produce two perfect circular mirrors on the spot. Add one paper-towel roll and voila — home-made persicope!

And for Christmas gifts, I had Charlie string some beads onto headpins, then I just made a loop and threaded it onto small earrings hoops to make sets of one-of-a-kind-wine charms.

Snazzy, right? Well, yes, except that these beads are from when I worked at a bead store… in college… 15 years ago. It seems like just yesterday that I was sitting around stringing necklaces, but it was actually a looooong time ago. Hmmmm, is it kind of pathetic that I have been hauling this stuff around for the last 15 years?

Today Charlie needed — absolutely HAD to have — a blue marker to finish his latest drawing. And, since he and Kate always leave the caps off the markers, ours were all dried out. We were on the verge of a crisis… and then I remembered my set of markers in the basement!

My beautiful Pentel markers… sigh. I have used these to make birthday cards for friends, on school projects, in art classes, and most recently on my kids’ baby books. In addition to drawing with them, I used to love ARRANGING them in the case; sometimes I’d do them in spectrum order, other times numerically, since each pen is numbered 101 to 136. (This compulsion is so strong in me that today when cleaning them up I did in fact put them into the case in number order.) They have been around for so long that I don’t even remember exactly when I got them, but I think it was somewhere around 6th grade? Which means I’ve had them for 25 years. Good lord! It is a minor miracle (or a testament to Japanese workmanship?) that they even still work.

But I have to say that it was was really wonderful — heartwarming! — to see my son drawing with the same markers I had as a kid. So I have decided that, no, my stash of near-antique craft supplies is not pathetic, but actually very cool!

A Gloomy, Gorey Day

Joy of joys, today I found myself sans kiddies at one of my favorite stores, Papersource. I was not even slacking off: I am in charge of the invites for the cocktail party/fund-raiser at Charlie’s preschool, and needed to pick up more cards. I swear.

Unlike my last trip, when I was running around frantically trying to replace each item as Kate pulled it off the shelf (with a devilish grin and maniacal laugh), today I was actually able to look around at all of the wonderful, useless goodies they have… and I happened upon a little gem from Edward Gorey. I have been a Gorey fan since high school, when I was introduced to “The Gashlycrumb Tinies,” an alphabetical poem detailing the demise of 26 children:

So I decided I must have The Fantod Pack, which are Tarot cards Gorey style. An impulse buy of the silliest kind, but I have a hard time resisting anything priced at $9.95 (what a bargain!), or this pretty and weird:

An excerpt from the instructions:

“Interpretation must always depend on the character and circumstances of the person consulting the pack… The day of the week or month of the year given for each card should prove particularly calamitous. The meanings given are selective rather than exhaustive, and hints rather than assertions. Lastly, you must rely on your own temerity and ‘imagination for disaster’ (Henry James) to gain the full meanings of the cards in combination.”

Ah, that clears things up. After giving the cards a try, I am awaiting the arrival of Sunday to see if I fall prey to loss of teeth, false arrest, evil communications, anemia, or a boating accident. I’ll keep you updated.

Do not try this at home

I love doing craft projects with Charlie and Kate. My friends sometimes think I am a bit insane, but for me doing a messy, involved project is way more fun than playing dress-up or pretend. I must admit that sometimes I bite off a bit more than I can chew, though.

Charlie has been asking about where primary colors come from, as in “Yellow and blue make green, but how do you make yellow?” I thought it would be a brilliant idea to show him by making our own dyes from fruits and vegetables!

This was actually my 6th grade science fair project, so I figure I am already kind of an expert. But, just in case…

First step: research! I find a great site, pioneerthinking.com, that has all the info I need to make my own dyes. Next I head to the store to buy a load of carrots, beets, and spinach, and also to A.C. Moore to get some white t-shirts.

I put the kids to work ripping up spinach and carrot slices for us to boil while I chop the beets. We now have three big pots simmering on the stove top, and also add a fourth which contains the t-shirts with water and white vinegar (this is the fixative for the dye). This is actually the first time I have ever had all four burners going! All this needs to simmer for an hour, so we head outside to play. When we come back in an hour later, the house reeks of boiled spinach and vinegar (yum!).

We are at least an hour and a half into this endeavor (not counting my shopping trips) and —uh, oh — the carrots and spinach both seem to be a bust. They are both just a pale browninsh color, and have no effect on even a paper towel dipped in the murky water. But the beet dye looks beautiful! So the t-shirts come out of the stinky vinegar, get rinsed, twisted, and dipped in the beet dye for about 10 minutes. They are a gorgeous magenta!

I take the drippy messes down to the basement, untwist them, and hang them to dry near the furnace. They actually look pretty cool, and Charlie is SO excited (Kate is oblivious). He wants to wear his immediately, but I explain I have to run it through the wash first, or else the beet juice will come off everywhere.

I have the happy task now of cleaning up the gazillion dirty pots, disposing of the soggy boiled vegetables, and generally transforming the kitchen back to its normal, somewhat tidy state. I am starting to feel like perhaps this was more trouble than it’s worth… so there’s NO WAY that beet dye is going down the drain. It’s now stashed in a Tupperware container at the back of my fridge (along with several other unidentified items).

We let the shirts dry completely, and now they have lightened to a rather sassy bubble-gum pink (which was expected, per pioneerthinking.com). I put them in the wash, careful to set it to “cold.” The cycle finishes, I take them out, and…

Are you kidding me?????

I mean, I could have fed these kids beets for dinner and gotten more color on the damn shirts. I was emotionally prepared for the color to fade, but really, I’m shocked by this. I think they are possibly even WHITER than when I bought them. Charlie handled the whole thing amazing well, and even manged to find the humor in it… (I’m not there yet).

So here’s the thing — I was a little lazy and did NOT pre-wash the shirts. I’m thinking maybe, just maybe, the fabric was pretreated with some sort of chemical what-not that kept the dye from setting? My reasoning was that boiling the shirts for an hour in vinegar would remove whatever was on them, but perhaps not.

I do have the remaining dye in the fridge, but I don’t know if I can bear to do this again, and least not so soon after this fiasco…


This is a cute computer-animated show we have discovered on PBS that runs at the end of another favorite, “Peep and the Big Wide World.” There is so much ugly, annoying stuff on TV for kids that it’s a pleasure to find something that is fun for all of us to watch together.

And that’s all I got for tonight. Just like with the kids… I’m tired, so you’re stuck watching a video:

Whole Foods: My happy place

One of my absolute favorite things to do these days is stroll the aisles of the new super-fancy Whole Foods in Dedham — early in the morning, dark chocolate mocha in hand, daydreaming about all of the fabulous things I might cook with their beautiful and expensive products. I am NOT a foodie at all — I don’t even particularly like to cook — which definitely makes it an odd pastime. Perhaps it is the part about being alone, drinking my coffee in peace? No… I actually bring Kate most times. I just strap her down and shove a croissant in her mouth, and we are two happy girls.

But now try this at the Newtonville Whole Foods (smaller aisles, smaller carts, no cup holders!), noon on a Saturday (prime time), with big ol’ Charlie rolling around in the cart and smashing all of my yet-to-be-purchased food. Not so happy. Not happy at all.

So imagine what a welcome distraction it was to hear an announcement for kids’ crafts at the front of the store. Although I assumed it would be incredibly crowded AND lame, Charlie and I checked it out. We walk right up to an empty seat and had the undivided attention of a nice young woman who helped Charlie create this very cute St. Patrick’s Day-themed collage of a traditional Irish Claddagh:

Two happy Bruels walked out of that store, our Whole Foods outing salvaged.

Turns out this “let us entertain your kids” angle is not unique to Whole Foods. Though I have not tried it yet, my friend Sarah swears by the kids’ workshops that Home Depot holds the first Saturday of each month. And Lowes has one EVERY Saturday.

Another place that caters to the kiddies: Starbucks. I found out today that in addition to all of the kids’ snacks and juice boxes they stock, they also make a “kid latte,” which is a cup of milk with foam on top. Seriously. No wonder our little friend Ava (age three) stated, upon passing a Starbucks in the car: “There’s Starbucks! Starbucks is good, because they have good things to eat and drink. I like Starbucks.” Yup, that’s basically what ran through my head, too.

Well, it’s good news for me that these retailers have figured out what my brother-in-law Brian observed years ago: “If Mommy’s not happy, nobody is happy.” Ain’t it the truth?

Sometimes looks aren’t everything (sigh…)

Last fall I was visiting my friends Jenni and Owen and was completely inspired when, after our kids trashed their dining room decorating cupcakes, Jenni whipped out her little Dyson hand-held vacuum and sucked up the mess from the floor, chairs, AND table. Genius! I decided right then and there that the only thing standing between me and a clean house was a cute hand-held vac.

I have a bright yellow Dyson upright, which I LOVE (though you can’t tell by how seldom I use it), and thought that a coordinating hand-held would be just the thing. But then my friend Emma has the ultra-sleek Dirt Devil Kone, which is chic enough to leave out all the time — a big plus in my book. So maybe that would be better choice?

I am not above buying an item based solely on looks, but I felt perhaps I should do some due diligence on this to figure out which one to get. I went to my favorite review site, consumersearch.com (it compiles all available reviews and summarizes — nice!), to check it out. Imagine my dismay to discover that neither of the above cuties got the best grade, but the significantly more homely and sadly-named Black & Decker PHV 1800CB.

Oh well. The main function of this thing is to suck up crap, which it does very well — I have already tried it out on everything from freshly cooked peas to plastic pony beads. So I just tuck it in the corner try not to look at it too much.

Picture this

I know it’s kind of retro, but I like to actually order prints of my photographs and put them in albums. I’ve kept one since 6th grade, and dragged ever-increasing numbers of albums with me to college, to New York City, and now here to my suburban home. They’re like little time capsules; I have photos of that boy in 9th grade I had a crush on, friends at slumber parties, my junior prom, my college boyfriend, parties my roommates and I threw, vacations with Stephen, and now kids, kids, kids!

The problem with all of these albums is that they are big, bulky, and ugly. I’m both too cheap and lazy to transfer my photos (and Stephen’s, too!) out of all the old miss-matched albums we’ve accumulated into a new set of coordinated ones. But I don’t want to hide them away, because I enjoy looking through them (and so do Charlie and Kate). What to do?


I headed over to Papersouce (another one of my FAVORITE places) and found some very wide book-binding tape. I covered just the bindings, then used photo corners to affix little printed cards with the dates for each album. They still look awful when I pull them off the shelf, but to the casual observer it looks like a very fancy set of albums.

Just call me Martha.