Thursday, October 25, 2012

I Spy...a cool new piece of furniture

Do you remember the I Spy books? Kids love the challenge of trying to spot something that’s hard to find. It takes focus, patience, and the payoff is a great sense of accomplishment.

While teaching preschool in Massachusetts, a colleague had the brilliant idea to create an I Spy coffee table. She asked all her students to bring in small objects of different colors from their home. The students then sorted the objects by color and counted each group. They placed the items in the table, creating a beautiful piece of furniture and hours of fun.

I thought it might be fun to have something in my home like that! I thought of it as a way to feature favorite small objects from my childhood that I was not ready to part with. I had friends donate any small “junk” pieces at my housewarming party this year. I then scoured my parents’ basement and attic. Like the students, I also sorted by color. It just seemed to work!

But what about the table to put all this great stuff in? I didn’t have the space or tools to properly build the piece of furniture in my small apartment, so I took to the Internet with vigor. It was tough to find something that perfectly suited my idea without costing a fortune. This Urban Outfitters table seemed perfect, but just too much over my budget. I settled on a table that I found on, took out the material inside, and covered the bottom of the table with cork contact paper.
I now have a reminder of some favorite childhood moments and memories, objects that remind me of good friends, a great piece of furniture to talk about with friends, and a piece of art that is always changing and evolving.

Tuesday, October 23, 2012

Guest Blogger: Sarah Wallendjack

In honor of Halloween, Sarah Wallendjack, friend, producer, and President of Children's Media Association, shares all the Mahna Mahna behind her costume tradition.

During this time of year, I am usually surrounded by fleece, furry fabric and foam. You see, this year will mark the 10th year in a row I have been dressing up as a Muppet for Halloween. What can I say, it's fun. I have been a Muppet fan as long as I can remember and the magical world that Jim Henson created has left an impression. Jim's philosophy on life has been wisdom I turn to often, and I now work in kid's television.

My Halloween tradition started the year I helped coordinate a Halloween costume party at the animation studio where I was working. I found an Animal costume in the child's section at Ricky's. The head piece was amazing and I knew with some creative scissor and sewing work, I could adapt the child's costume to fit me. The following year, I found a Swedish Chef costume, in an adult size, and all the sudden I had started a trend.   

I found some great 'pimp' accessories and it was easy to transform as Dr. Teeth from the Electric Mayhem. In following years, I was able to find a Miss Piggy wig and a packaged Fozzie Bear costume. Both were big hits. I crafted a yellow yarn wig to help me transform as Janice, mmm, OK, and I donned a green dress, a statue of liberty head piece and a headband with ping-pong balls to attend a friend's wedding as Kermit the Frog. But after that I had to get a little more creative. I knew I wanted to be Gonzo, but couldn't find a costume that felt quite right, so I got crafty and turned an old baseball hat into Gonzo's head with lots of feathers and felt to recreate his signature nose.  

Last year's desire to be Sam the Eagle required some more out of the box thinking. I crafted the head out of foam and an old blue blanket. I visited my friends at the Puppet Kitchen for some professional support and to help make sure that Sam's eyebrows looked furrowed and American. Another hit at another party.

I count some professional puppeteers as friends who help me perfect the Muppet looks. I study lots of photos to make sure I can deliver on the comedic details that make the Muppets so unique. 

It is a fun tradition and my goal is to one day have enough Muppet costumes to gather my friends and march in the Greenwich Village parade as the Muppet Show. I still have quite a number of Muppets to cross of my list.  At a minimum, I get a pretty great Facebook profile photo :) If you would like to see who I am going to be this year, follow me on Twitter @swallendjack to get the first glimpse.

All photos by S. Wallendjack.

Tuesday, October 16, 2012

The Element of Surprise

This past weekend, my mother and I each received our Heather Ross surprise packages. Heather Ross, illustrator and fabric designer supreme, does a studio sale each year. This year, she asked shoppers to write a short paragraph about themselves, which fabric patterns they like, and what they might hope to get from the sale. Shoppers then purchased a box size, ranging from small to extra large. Heather explained that the sale would essentially be a surprise. She'd curate the boxes for each individual, based on what was shared in the letter.

This process took a while, and I was filled with anticipation. I essentially paid to be surprised. I spent time wondering about what might be in the package. Would I get fabric or clothing or books or something completely unexpected? JJ Abrams talks about a similar experience in his Ted Talk, regarding a Mystery Box purchased from a magic store as a child. When you don't know what to expect, the possibilitities are endless.

Turns out, the Heather Ross packages were pretty fabulous. My mother and I shared our love for Heather's mermaid prints in our letters, and she delivered with matching mermaid tee shirts and some swatches of fabric.

This experience reminded me of childhood. So much of the world is a surprise and a mystery to a child. This comes along with that feeling of excitement and happy anticipation, but it can also be a little scary. Not knowing what to expect or anticipate could cause anxiety. It makes me wonder how we can curate little boxes of excitement and surprise for young people, while addressing their uncertainty and possible anxiety.

How do you create surprise or mystery for young people in your work?

Thursday, October 11, 2012

A Halloween Costume Suggestion For My Unborn Child

I'm not a mom...but if I were and had any say in my child's Halloween costume, they'd be an Apple Genius. Though not completely original, I have yet to see a kid dressed up as such, and I wonder, "Why, hipster parents, have you not seized this opportunity?" I did the Etsy search, and I got nothin.

With more kids asking for and owning Apple products than ever before, is the Apple Genius the new superhero? He/she/it brings your beloved devices back from the dead with the power of their brain! Their simplistic uniform and super smarts make them the perfect protagonist.

I think a costume is just the icing on the cake. When will the Apple brand step out of the digital play arena and into more traditional forms of kids' play? Some potential future conversations may sound like this:

-"Playing school, Sally?"
-"Shh! I'm teaching a workshop on iMovie!"

-"Playing handyman, Billy?" 
-"No, I'm repairing Bear's track pad."

I'm in awe of the new Playmobil Apple Store playset. Though I think it's made with the nerdy adult in mind, it's possible that this kind of Apple store/product inspired play could grow.

So, what do you think? Is the Apple Genius the next superhero?