Making Art

While this year’s Maker Faire did not have as many artists as I would have wished for, there were some notable talents sharing their passion for their work. In some cases, the work is done entirely by hand. In others, it is done by machine. Either way, the end results are absolutely spectacular.

Jesse of Third-Son works with laser-cut wood and the designs he produces are just delightful. He had the cutest little plant pokes shaped like castle turrets and ice cream-topped towers, perfect in every detail. Naturally, I was so captivated with his work that I completely forgot to take photographs.

Luckily, I did make a small purchase of wood coasters so I can show you those, and he has photos on his website so you can see why I was so entranced (along with a shop in case you want to join me in owning some of the wonderfulness he creates).


There was also a wonderful metal worker, Tick Tock Tom, who made the most striking sculptures out of found bits. Some were robotic, like this little guy.


Others were anatomic, and completely kinetic, like a functioning set of steel lungs and this wonderfully drippy heart that recirculated it’s life’s blood around and around.


But by far the thing that captivated my heart were the masks.


Made of leather and fabric, embroidered and embellished, and glittering with gold, they were the most beautiful things at the Faire. I just can’t get enough of them and keep going back to look at the photos I took, if only to make my heart sigh in happiness.


My sister was in love with the rooster and I do have to admit his magnificence. As for me, my heart was stolen by this guy:




For the past few years, we have ventured out to this little thing called the Ottawa Mini-Maker Faire. This year, sadly, they announced there wasn’t going to be a Mini-Maker Faire.

Instead, Canada held its first official fully-fledged Maker Faire last weekend, right here in Ottawa, and we were so excited to go.

The Maker Faire was held in the beautiful, historic Aberdeen Pavillion at Landsdown.

And it was, to be perfectly truthful, a little disappointing.

In previous years, we have easily spent 3 or 4 hours exploring and watching and listening and trying and doing while we were there. This year, though, we were there less than 2 hours before we had seen and tried everything that enticed us and we were ready to go, and that included spending 20 minutes talking to the delightfully patient gentleman from ParLUGment about the best way to custom paint Lego minifigs.


There was a surprising lack of artists and crafters, and very few exhibitors blurring the lines between art, science, and engineering. There was quite a lot of hands-on exploration for very young children, but little to fascinate those 9 to 12.  The aisles were a little ragged and hard to navigate, and no one had thought out how, exactly, to make sure there was enough room for more than a few people to be able to stop and watch a demo without being overwhelmed by the noise and visuals coming frmo the booth next door, or behind. Backdrops might have helped, I suspect, making the fair more like Artist’s Alley at ComicCon and less like a jumbled row of table after table crowded round with people.


There were plenty of people with 3D printers, but not a one of them excited me. Most were showing off boring little models of their favourite TV and video game characters. Not one had something truly innovative or even terribly beautiful or emminently useful. I’ve seen so much gorgeous art and innovative inventions being 3D printed online, it was sad to see little other than character models printed out.

All in all, it was a fun time, just not as impressive as I was hoping for. There were some fabulous displays of creativity and wonder, including an absolutely mezmerizing kaleidescope


A precisely milled R2D2 builder

makerr2 makerr2bits

And a fascinating melding of sandcastle building, real-time 3D mapping, and sound that let you change the sound being produced by sculpting sand mixed with baby oil into shapes of various heights.


The sand box was being continually scanned by a mapping machine that projected various colours on to the sand based on the sand’s height map, and then produced a sound pattern whose frequencies were based on the measurements it had just scanned. It was very cool.

But the Lego…Oh, the Lego! ParLUGment is Ottawa’s adult Lego enthusiasts club and they are fantastic. There was a wide variety of creations ranging from minifig scaled operating rooms to a full-scale Tesla charging station with all it’s swoopy curves (an impressive feat considering it was made entirely from rectangular blocks). But by far my favourite was the Star Wars-themed mechanized marble run that stretched about 3 metres long.






All in all, the Maker Faire was quite enjoyable and we will go again next year. Hopefully they’ll have learned a lot from this year’s experience and will have worked out some of the kinks.


Blue houses

I snapped these photos quickly with my cell phone and for some reason, they’ve all got a blue cast to them. I took the photos because I’ve been meaning to post about a little project that’s been ongoing for what feels like half the summer.


We’ve been painting bird houses.

Some days, friends come over and paint one, too. They keep their birdhouse, of course, so what you see here is probably only half of the birdhouses that have been worked on this summer.


Sometimes the painting is a collaborative affair with multiple people working together to produce a single house.


Sometimes there are more layers of paint than you realize as houses go from pink one day to red the next, and blue the day after that.


The houses are from the dollar store for the most part, prebuilt and ready for decorating however you please. The big one (second from the left in the first photo) is a build-your-own kit from Lowes or Home Depot, as is another one shaped like a barn that is not yet finished, so I wasn’t allowed to photograph it yet.

I’m not entirely sure what we’re going to do with all these bird houses. We might do a yarn-bombing type event and decorate a school yard fence for a day or two. We might randomly leave them on neighbours’ porches with a little note of appreciation for being such good neighbours. Or we might just put them all up somewhere in our backyard as a colourful counterpoint to all the white stuff that we know is coming in a few short weeks.

But not just yet. For now, I rather like looking at them as they sit on the table all in a row, cheerful and happy little things that they are.


A few weeks ago, we spent a lovely afternoon at the Daly Arts Court for Culture Days. There were Culture Days activities taking place all over the city, but the Daly Arts Court was where we wanted to be. Or rather, where I was sure the kids would prefer to be if they only knew what was waiting for them.

And what was that?

Adventures in squishiness, that was what. Oh, and LED lights, too.

We were greeted outside the building by these lovely steampunk stilt walkers:

Outside, people were printing on t-shirts with pieces of old rubber tires. If you had the patience for it, you, too, could choose an old logo t-shirt from their stash and make it look like it had been run over by a car.

Inside, we found circus performers who were hanging upside down from the ceiling by a long loop of fabric. If you were just a little bit brave, you, too, could try your hand at twisting yourself into the fabric like a pretzel and hanging upside down. (I was not brave.)

In another room, there was button-making and needle felting and weaving. Our B was fascinated by the weaving machines and we wound up spending quite a bit of time learning how it all works. Somehow, I see a loom in our future.

But the real draw — the entire reason I had chosen to visit the Daly Arts Court on this fine autumn day — was to play with play dough. But not just any play dough, oh no!

Electrically conductive play dough.

Oh, what fun you can have with a battery, a few LEDs, and a handful of squishy, squashy, electrically conductive dough! It didn’t take the kids long before they were completely immersed in the learning.
About 9.2 millisecconds, to be precise.

The coloured dough is conductive, thanks to its salt content, and electricity readily passes through it. The uncoloured dough contains no salt and therefore acts as an insulator, preventing electricity from flowing through. Together, they can be squished and smushed and rearranged until you have the most fascinating of electrically-charged creatures.

Of course, a battery only holds so much juice. With one LED, you get a nice, clear, bright light.

With half a hundred LEDs, eventually they dim to almost nothingness. (Though that, apparently, it absolutely perfectly delightful. Plus it makes for some great science learning.)

The kids weren’t the only ones to have fun. The Man We Call Dad built an architectural wonder of a structure with smooth lines and easily visible current pathways using nothing but conductive dough.

As for me? I built a dragon.

We spent well over an hour playing with dough and talking with the lovely people from ArtEngine.

And then B and I went down the hall so we could try our hands at belly dancing.

(No. That isn’t me. That’s the instructor.)

All good things must come to an end, of course, and this day was no different. We left, we had dinner, and we headed towards home… with a small stop along the way to buy some LEDs. Wires, too. And batteries. And buzzers. And motors.


Well, because conductive dough is absolutely simple to make for yourself, you see, and then we could play and play and play as long as we desired. And we could invite the neighbour kids to join us.

Which we did.

They played for hours.

If you would like to try your hand and building your own squishy circuits, you can watch the TED talk video and download the dough recipes and, with a battery and a few LEDs, you’ll be having fun in no time at all.


Give a boy some power tools and look what he builds!

It must be getting close to spring, because we all have spring fever around here. There has been a lot of making going on everywhere I look. The birdhouse, the greenhouse, the bird seed wreaths. The kids aren’t the only ones making, either. Mama’s knitting needles have just finished new socks for a tiny little girl, and new socks for a not-so-tiny girl have been cast on and I have been informed that they are just so soft and touchable that she can’t wait to put them on her feet.

The biggest project of all has been in K’s room, and it has required a fair bit of lumber and the judicious use of power tools.  Naturally, we all dove into the project whole-heartedly. It isn’t every day that you get to play with power tools, after all! And besides, with how much we love to read around here, the idea of building a window seat just for reading was almost irresistable.

By now you should know enough about our general parenting philosophy to know that we left as much of the tool use in the hands of the children as we possibly could. Some things needed an adult hand, but for the most part, the kids did the work. They measured, located studs, made sure lines were level, helped drill holes in the walls, drove screws, sawed boards to length, installed a light, drilled a hole for the cord, and in general, worked very hard. I meant to take more pictures of the work in progress, but somehow we were too busy enjoying the making to bother with photographs.

It still remains to put the front lip on, prime and paint, and install a cushion, but as you can see, that hasn’t stopped K from taking his new window seat for a test drive.

The serious business of forts

There is some serious fort building going on around here. Seriously. Christmas was spent in Toronto amidst family and friends, and while Ottawa had snow on Christmas day, Toronto did not. We came home to snow, which was a wonderful surprise, and over the next two days it snowed more. And more. And more.

The first day, the snow was riddled with ice and wasn’t at all the right kind of snow for snowballs or building things. It was fun to shovel and throw around, but it was altogether too scratchy and icy, and it certainly didn’t stick together very well, which limits your options when you want to build a fort, don’t you know. The next day, it was just cold. Too cold for comfort, it seemed, though in reality we’ve braved much colder in years past. With such a warm fall, the cold is a bit of a shock to the system and it will take a bit of getting used to, I fear.

Today, the snow is perfect. Sticky and heavy, it is perfect for shaping and there is more than enough of it to go around. Which means, of course, that the fort building has begun. K began by leveling a patch of the backyard with a shovel. Good foundations lead to strong walls, after all. B and her friend C, on the other hand, simply got to work at building walls using the new brick-making tools the kids got for Christmas. They have handles, you see, which makes it super easy to churn through the backyard, scooping up brick after brick worth of snow and dumping it in exactly the right place. More importantly, they are rectangular, with neatly squared edges. Building forts out of roundish bricks made by yogurt cups and empty margarine containers works, but it leaves more gaps than not and the walls tend to list one way or the other, so being able to shape perfect rectangles is a definite improvement.

They’ve been out there for almost two hours now, the yard is full of random walls and one very flat floor, and they show no signs of wanting to come in anytime soon.

It’s a perfect snow fort sort of day.

The Great Big List of Winter Fun

I would never have said that I am a huge fan of winter.

With Reynaud’s syndrome, my hands and toes get exceptionally cold with the slightest provocation. Thick socks and mittens – warm mittens — are an absolute necessity as soon as the weather dips below 10 degrees C. Even indoors, I tend to keep a hot water bottle or a rice bag handy so that as my fingers and toes get chilled, I can at least keep them from becoming painfully cold.

Once the snow falls, the ground gets slippery and, come January, a mess of ice and compacted snow that no amount of sunshine will eliminate. With unstable knees and hips, slippery ground becomes more than just an inconvenience. Even a seemingly small slide can twist my joints out of alignment, dislocate my kneecaps, make my knees puff up like balloons, and send spasms of debilitating pain through my entire lower half. (Let’s not even talk about what happens when I outright fall. It’s not pretty. There’s a good reason my cane has a sturdy spike on the end of it, and that I don’t venture out without it once there is snow on the ground.)

No, I would not say that winter is my friend. But — and it is a big but — I like snow. Or rather, I like all the things you can do with snow. And I absolutely love how the snow drives the kids outside faster than you can say “Look! It’s snowing!” and keeps them out there, happily entertaining themselves for hours and hours and hours, only to come in with rosy cheeks and sparkling eyes and chests heaving from all their snow moving exertions.

We do a lot of playing in the snow. Of course, with a winter that lasts until just before summer, we usually have a lot of snow to play in. And I miss it. I do. This whole business of winter without snow is not as fun as you might think it would be. Yes, I can walk without risk, but there are so many things that are missing from our lives right now.

I made a list. Because I could, and because I miss doing these things, because I want to remember all the crazy things we’ve done in the snow over the years, and because I plan on doing every single one of these things again as soon as we do have a decent amount of snow that sticks around for more than three-and-a-half minutes. Winter may not be here, but as soon as it arrives, boy-oh-boy are we going to have ourselves a bucket-list of fun!

And, because I like to share fun things to do and make and try, here are the first 34 things on my list.

The First 34 Things on the Great Big List of Winter Fun

  1. Make tracks in the snow.
  2. Don’t settle for boot prints – use your fingers or a stick (or even a carved potato) to make animal tracks, monster tracks, tractor tracks, and alien tracks too.
  3. Make a snowball.
  4. Make another snowball.
  5. Make a third, and turn it into a miniature snowman.
  6. Make a snowwoman to go with it.
  7. Make some snow children, and a snow monster, and a snow zombie.
  8. You’ve heard of sandcastles… Make a snowcastle. They last longer and hold detail better.
  9. Add some flags and windows and doors to your snowcastle.
  10. Populate your snowcastle with miniature snowmen, snowwomen, and snowchildren.
  11. Don’t forget some snowpets.
  12. Balance snowpeople and snowpets on the windowsill, then knock on the window until someone inside notices.
  13. Turn around and survey the front lawn for possible construction sites.
  14. Build a snow fort on the front lawn. (Make sure you don’t build it on top of Mama’s favourite spirea bush.)
  15. Make chairs and tables and windows and doors in your snow fort.
  16. Get a scrap of cloth and some play dishes and food and have a tea party in your snowfort.
  17. Talk your mother into serving real tea and cookies (can’t forget the cookies!) for your snowfort tea party. Invite some friends to your snowfort tea party.
  18. After a really heavy snow (25 cm or more), and before you shovel the driveway clear, plan a Super Extra Gigantic Snow House on your driveway.
  19. Using a stick, draw a square that will be your bedroom.
  20. Draw another square for your brother’s or sister’s bedroom.
  21. Draw another square to be a living room.
  22. Draw another square to be a kitchen.
  23. Don’t forget a bathroom. (There’s nothing more fun that taking a snowbath in a snowbathtub. And, for some crazy reason, boys like snowtoilets. They like making farty noises while sitting on snow toilets.)
  24. Start shoveling the snow out of the middle of the rooms, piling it on the line you drew to make walls. Keep going until all the rooms are made.
  25. Don’t forget to shovel out some doors so that you won’t get stuck inside your snowroom in your snowhouse.
  26. Pack some snow into furniture shapes.
  27. Make sure you have some thick wool blankets for the snowbeds.
  28. A tablecloth and curtains made from fat quarters of quilting cotton are always pretty.
  29. Plastic flowers go nicely in a snowvase on your snowdiningroom snowtable.
  30. Invite some friends to a snowhouse-warming party.
  31. Talk your mother into serving cookies and hot cocoa.
  32. Fill a squirt gun full of watered down tempera paint and go all Jackson Pollock on the walls of your snowhouse.  (Every house needs art on the walls, after all.)
  33. Laugh like a hyena when The Man We Call Dad notices your snowhouse and wonders how the heck he’s going to get the car out of the driveway.
  34. Help your sibling run around collecting curtains and tablecloths and blankets and tea party sets and plastic flowers indoors so that the great big blue tractor from the snow shoveling service can turn your snowhouse into a jumbled-up mess of rainbow-coloured snow on the front lawn. (Don’t forget to thank them for helpfully moving the driveway snow closer to the front lawn fort.)