Wednesday, July 21, 2010

In Memory of Éliane Wilches Peña

As many of you know, my good friend Éliane passed away recently. Since her death, I have been struggling to find an appropriate way for myself and others to honor her memory. I thought about planting a tree or a small stand of tulips for her, or having a nice bench placed somewhere with a placard...but none of those seemed quite right.

Éliane has talked to me many times over the past few years about how she would like to adopt a little girl from Colombia some day. She wanted to be a mother and thought that a motherless child from her parents' country might be just the right person to help her start her own family. Now that she's gone, I keep thinking about the little girl out there who will never know Éliane and get the chance to be a family. I will continue to imagine that little girl for many years, I think. This brought me to the idea of supporting her somehow. To me, a child represents a hopeful future and endless possibilities. Éliane needed that. It seems like a much more fitting and worthwhile tribute than tulips, not that I don't love tulips.

So I went in search of an orphanage to donate money in memory of Éliane. First I went to Mercy Corps, then to World Vision: both great organizations with ties to children's charities all over the world, but neither of them had an easy way for me to locate a needy institution. So I started doing some of my own research. This brought me to an orphanage in Cali, Colombia that was founded over 80 years ago by a man named Dr. Oscar Scarpetta. He started The Instituto Oscar Scarpetta Orejuela in 1929. It is a "private, non-profit, organization that in correlation with the community, the state, and families is committed to develop health, education, protection and participation programs for boys, girls and youth who are orphaned, abused, abandoned, and in danger situations, with the aim to help them grow into healthy human beings who can become a live example of human values, in order to actively and effectively contribute to their self, family, community and country’s transformation."

I had the opportunity to speak with the founder's granddaughter, Alexandra, who is the U.S. representative for the organization. When I went to call her I noticed that her phone number has a Washington State area code. Small world! She is local, and a lovely person to boot! We talked for a while about my reason for calling and my friend's death. I feel like the timing of it all is in some way providential, since the orphanage is in a funding push right now to supply some of the basic needs of the children in their care.

The orphanage has been run by the same family since its inception 80 years ago, for the past 35 years by the founder's daughter Doña Nohemy Scarpetta de Espindola, known to many as Mamá Nohemy. She and the orphanage have received many awards including from Unicef and a Medal of Merit from the Colombian government.

I urge others to donate as well to this cause, whether or not you knew Éliane. Donations can be made directly to the orphanage, though smaller amounts should be pooled to avoid multiple bank transfer fees, which can end up eating up much of the money. If you would like to make a donation (of any size) to honor Éliane, I have set up a special Paypal account and dedicated bank account to receive funds. Please email me at if you need my address and are planning to send a check. I will transfer whatever donations have been submitted on August 20th, 2010. All donations will receive confirmation and receipt from the orphanage.


photos used with permission from The Instituto Oscar Scarpetta Orejuela

Tuesday, July 20, 2010

What IS that?

"What IS that thing?" you might ask, if you see it sitting on my counter. "It's brilliant!" I'll respond. My sister-in-law bought it for me this weekend when she saw me coveting the one she uses in her Oregon kitchen. So, what do YOU think it is? A wooden whisk? A strange paper towel holder? I child "disciplining" tool? A rustic candle stick?'s a...wait for it...

Plastic bag drying rack!! Isn't that great?!! My grandma Evie always used to wash out her plastic bags (even the flimsy produce kind) and reuse them many times. She would hang them on the clothes line to dry. The sight of plastic bags flapping around in the wind is a vivid childhood memory of mine. I don't save produce bags, but I do reuse Ziplock style bags over and over again. Usually I just hang them upside down on an empty bottle, or try to prop them open on the counter, but neither of those methods has worked great, especially if I have several to dry at once.

So check out this puppy! When it's closed, it takes up very little space in a drawer or cupboard. When it's opened (by pushing down the wooden spacer), you can dry several larger bags and up to eight smaller ones.

My husband thought I was crazy to get so excited, but now he thinks it's cool too. I love practical ingenuity!!


This past weekend we had the good fortune to visit my brother and his family in their adopted hometown of Corvallis, Oregon. Though I'd been there once before, very briefly, I'd never had the chance to really get to know the town and its inhabitants. I have to say, it's awesome. Here are some of the things that I loved...

People ride bikes. So many people, in fact, that public festivals find it necessary to have designated bicycle parking lots.

We were in Corvallis on the weekend of one of the town's biggest celebrations on the year, DaVinci Days. It's a three day festival of science, engineering, art and music. One of the central events revolves around these "kinetic sculptures" and a race that they participate in. The orca on wheels that is pictured above, along with the "mousetrap' wheel below (that's my son inside getting to try it out) were both entered in a four part race where they were required to be propelled (by human power only) in a turf, sand dune, mud bog and river race course. The best engineered kinetic sculptures were able to navigate all of the varied terrains and make it back home intact.

Here is what the mud bog leg of the race looked like. The term "race" was a bit of a misnomer here, since the progress was so slow for most of the entries that my one year old niece could have crawled the course faster. It was fun to watch though!

This crazy kinetic sculpture didn't qualify for the race, so the lady just hung around the place and looked kinetically cool.

In addition to enjoying the festival, we got to take in the regular sights of the city. Corvallis has a wonderful Saturday farmers market with locally grown fruits and vegetables. The market is located near a fun city fountain that my brother and the kids just couldn't resist a romp in.

Nothing like sunshine and sprays of water to lift the spirits!

And a little hula hooping.

For lunch one day we drove out of town to a nearby winery and had a stellar bottle of red while sitting in an absolutely beautiful setting.

It made me want to be wealthy enough to get away with living a life of leisure. It was perhaps the most pleasant glass of wine I've ever consumed.

And then, to top it all off, we ended with my favorite summer activity of all time: berry picking. I was all ready to rev up my mad skills to tackle some hard core blueberry gathering. The problem was, the branches were so laden with fruit that it took no time at all. There was no hunt, no challenge, no SPORT. We picked over 20 pounds of organic blueberries the size of grapes in about 20 minutes. And that's not counting the ones we ate while we picked. It was crazy.

Crazy fun, that is.

Tuesday, July 6, 2010

Custom Display Racks

A couple years ago I built myself some display racks for craft fairs and such. I did a pretty good job, if I do say so myself. However, I am not trained in fine woodworking and joinery, plus I don't really have the proper tools to produce the highest quality racks. So they fell apart from overuse and transport. Well, one of them did. The other one still works OK, but I needed more than one.

Constructing the display racks fell into the same category as sewing the couch slipcover that I made a number of years ago: loved doing it, was totally proud of myself and my craftswomanship, but would sooner be eaten by a mountain beaver than do the project again. Once is enough.

Consequently, I was thrilled last December to meet a gentleman with all the skills, tools and patience that I lack. His name is Jerry and he made me some BEAUTIFUL new displays, so I wanted to share. Maybe you need some display racks too?

Jerry had a look at the displays that I had already made (he thought they were pretty good, considering) and we discussed my overall needs: they needed to be portable, durable, collapsible and sturdy enough to not blow over with a big gust of wind. This is what Jerry came up with...

This is what they look like totally collapsed, with a decorative carrying "handle" at the top. The two side wings have wooden pegs that fit into holes on the underside of the shelves and then are secured with latches, which locks the whole thing in place for easy transport.

Once the sides are unlatched and opened, the bottom shelf flips down (on hinges) and locks into place with two little tab/groove thingies. This prevents the sides from flaring out too far.

Then the other three shelves can be easily flipped down into place to rest on the wooden pegs, making a stable, awesomely brilliant display stand. Can you tell that I like them?

Jerry paid lots of attention to details. The joinery is excellent and they are nicely finished in black. They are easy to open and close and fit flat in my garage and car for storage and transport. This is his contact info, in case you live in the Seattle area and are in need of some custom displays yourself.

And here they are being put to use. They've made my set-up and take down at shows SO much easier and pleasant. Thanks Jerry!

Baby Tie-Dye

Here is a fun and easy new baby project to do with kids. It's inexpensive, doesn't take too long, and is great because each piece is unique and special...just like the little peanut who will wear it.

Start with your basic 100% cotton baby onesies. I didn't wash mine beforehand, though I know that's usually recommended in order to eliminate any fabric sizing that might be in the clothing.

I bought an assembled dye kit at JoAnn Fabrics which included three little bottles with squirt caps, powdered dye, rubber bands and gloves.

The process is simple: take a dry onesie and fold and/or gather it before tightly wrapping it with rubber bands. There are many different folding techniques that produce cool effects, so experimenting is the fun part.

Once we got our fabric tightly folded and banded we ran the whole thing under water and squeezed out as much of the excess as possible. This was to allow the dye to be wicked into the design. If you don't wet it some, the dye water has a tendency to run off the fabric and not soak in enough to get the effect you want. You can also just dip the whole thing in a dye bath, but I've found that this allows too much dye to permeate.

We squirted the dye in the areas between each rubber band to get some fun stripe and sunburst effects. After the dye was added, we wrapped the whole wet thing in saran wrap.

Ordinarily, I would have left it overnight to set, but we didn't have that much time so I tried something new. I put the whole thing in the microwave for 3 minutes to cook. The heat helped to set the dye and sped up the whole process. After microwaving the fabric, we unwrapped it and let it cool. After and hour or so, we removed the rubber bands and set the onesies out on the counter overnight to completely dry.

The next morning I threw them all in the washer on cold, then into the dryer to be finished. Voila!