Tuesday, May 29, 2012

Race to Reopen the Belle Isle Aquarium: Fun, Food, and Fish!

Are you getting sick of my blog posts on the Belle Isle Aquarium?  Because in case you missed the first two, this is number three!  My first post described my joy and excitement as I prepared my dry tank exhibit and the second post described the behind the scenes fun I had setting up a fish tank full of pillows.  Good times!  So, what else could I possibly have to say about this event?  Isn't it obvious?!?!?  Now I am writing because someone needs to tell you to get down to the historic Belle Isle Aquarium on Thursday night!

I am going to take you back to elementary school English class for a moment and give you the who, what, where, when, why, and how's of the "Race to Reopen the Aquarium" event.

Who:  You need to go!
What:  "Race to Reopen the Aquarium" a gala with music, fish, finger foods, and fun!
Where:  Belle Isle Aquarium on Belle Isle in Detroit, Michigan
When: Thursday, May 31, 2012 from 7pm to 11pm
Why:  The aquarium was the oldest continually operating aquarium in the United States until it closed in 2005 due to lack of funds.  This place is a gem and it is needs to be open.
How:  Show up at the aquarium in your "summer chic" duds and plan to spend $50 a ticket.

I know, it sounds like a lot of fun!  That is why I am going!
I tugged, twisted, cried, begged, and pleaded with my husband to get him to take me to this event.  Okay, I am exaggerating.  All I had to do was say, "Hey, since my pillows are hanging out in a tank at the aquarium, don't you think we should hang out at the aquarium?"  It took little or no convincing and since my birthday was last week, my husband somehow bought me the most perfect dress for the occasion.  And it fits... it fits welll!!!!!

Sure, I want people to come out and see my pillows.  I ordered some really cool Detroit and jellyfish fabric that I am hoping will come in the mail ASAP so that I can add some nautical and local flavor to my tank.  But, regardless of my desire to introduce more people to my pillows, the fundraiser really is going to be a snazzy little event.  I encourage all of you who ever went to Belle Isle as a kid, but never had the chance to take your own kids to get out there and and support the aquarium.  I don't this you will be disappointed!  

Thursday, May 17, 2012

Violet: Color, Flower, Literary Character, and My Kid!

Names are pretty important to new parents.  Couples spend a lot of time trying to find the perfect name for a person they have never met.  It is hard work.  My husband said "no" to many of the names that I suggested.  And I certainly expressed my deep concern when Kevin suggested Vera and Pearl.  Vera and Pearl Mlutkowski?????  Anyway, it is hard to pick names.  However, most of the time names seem to fit the kid.  Mimi is actually an Amelia and I think her given name and nickname suits her well.  She is a smart, playful, sassy, caring, loves to please, and is beautiful little girl.  Violet is all the things that her sister is but a little more devious.  But, little did we know when we named her she has a literary and silver screen doppelganger.  

Have you ever read Charlie and Chocolate Factory or seen the movie, Willy Wonka and the Chocolate Factory?  Do you remember the character Violet Beauregarde?  Well Violet is a gum chewing champ and she turns into a giant blueberry after eating blueberry pie gum.  She swells up in a giant blueberry and the Oompa Loompas have to take her down to the juicing room to return her back to normal.

Violet Beauregarde - this could happen to my own Violet!
We had planned to name our own Violet, Lucy.  About a month before she was born, Kevin said, "How about the name Violet?"  Sure, why not!  Well, we could not have picked a more appropriate name.  She loves the color purple even though we tried to steer clear of dressing her in too much purple.  Do you know how annoying it is to hear, "Oh, you named her Violet and you dress her in purple.  How cute!  Do you do that all the time?"  Uh no, I just liked the outfit.  But, she likes purple.  She also loves blueberries.  I am not talking about just enjoying blueberries.  The child can down a pint of blueberries a day.  At least blueberries are a super food!  Well, yesterday the child ate so many blueberries (frozen, fresh, and in pancakes) that she actually started to resemble Violet Beauregarde.  Blueberry stains around her mouth, her chin, cheeks, eyes, forehead - they were everywhere.

Violet -the Blueberry Monster!  This picture does not really show how
blue her face became after eating so many blueberries.

After dinner, we ventured outside to plant our flower, fruit, and veggie gardens.  The girls wanted to plant blueberries and strawberries this year.  They were so excited.  Mimi was a great help but Violet who looked like a walking blueberry stated, "I don't want to help.  I don't want to get dirty."  Interesting because she was covered in blueberry stains, snot, and dirt already.

Mimi - the Strawberry Monster planting strawberry plants.

Violet's blueberry plant
So, what is in a name and how does my name suit me?  Well, I basically believe that sometimes my name should mean lazy moron.  After planting I decided to water the gardens.  Even though I have not forgotten that I am dog-sitting for my parents, I did forget (or too lazy) to clean up dog poop! I dragged the hose across the backyard and watered my plants.  As I was putting the hose away I kept smelling something very nasty.  I realized there was poop on the hose, poop - not dirt on my hands, and poop on my clothes.  GROSSSSSSS!!!!!!  Ugh!  I cleaned myself up very quickly and my shoes spent the night outside.  When trying to clean my shoes this morning, I noticed what bad shape they are actually in.  Therefore, I am ditching my old shoes and trading them in or a new model.

Rather bold and clownish but, hey they are sooo comfy!
To quote one of my favorite comedians, Mel Brooks, "Every human being has hundreds of separate people living under his skin.  The talent of a writer is his ability to give them their separate names, identities, personalities and have them relate to other characters living with him."  I like this quote for a couple reasons.  We are not born in a vacuum.  We are the product of our parents, grandparents, aunts, uncles, siblings and all of their experiences. We are an individuals under constant influence.  Maybe that is why reading fiction is so fun.  The characters maybe imaginary but you know they could have existed, maybe just not so exaggerated.  So, isn't it fun when fiction and real life collide?  Whenever Violet eats blueberries, I often think that one these days an Oompa Loompa is going to have to take her away for juicing.  Maybe this thought is wrong, but it does make me smile!  

Sunday, May 13, 2012

Belle Isle Aquarium: Behind the Scenes

This weekend I got a rare opportunity to play around in a 650 gallon fish tank in an aquarium that is over 100 year old!  What a treat!  I like old buildings and old stuff.  I like snooping around and going places that most people normally don't get to see.  When I travel, I enjoy off the beaten path kind of spots.  So, hanging out in a fish tank is just the place for me.

In case you did not read Thursday's post about 715 Pillows decorating and empty tank, here is where you can check out the back story.  Late Friday afternoon, pretty much immediately after my husband returned home from Seattle, I packed the family up to pick out my fish tank at the Belle Isle Aquarium.  There were fish, turtles, an eel, a few volunteers, and the Pewabic Pottery folks hanging around the old aquarium.  I just love the green tiled ceiling.  You really do feel like you are underwater.  A volunteer showed me my choices of empty tanks and I chose a medium sized tank that had fake coral ledges.  My thought was that it might make it easier to stack pillows.  We walked through a narrow corridor, behind the tanks to get to my tank.  I climbed down into the tank, got a feel for how much space I had, and arranged a few of bins I brought.  I also let the girls get in so they could imagine they were fishes.  Unfortunately, as we were walking out I found out that the aquarium was not going to be open on Mother's Day due to unforeseen circumstances.  However, the Grand Prix is still a go!
Me in a fish tank!

Mimi and Vi decided to take the plunge!

Very fun evening!
I had a very bizarre dream Friday night.  I went to the aquarium to set up my tank and guess what?  My tank was set up like a tidal pool and filled with critters such as lobsters and crabs.  I was told I need to share the tank with the animals.  Yikes!

Saturday morning we loaded the car with lighting, a chair, and pillows.  We were ready to go.  But, we were bringing someone else with us, my friend's son who is a four year old fish enthusiast.  On the car ride to Belle Isle, my husband and I chuckled as we listened to a three year old, four year old, and five year old bond over poop jokes.  It was very entertaining.  When we arrived at the tank, we unloaded and started to get an idea of what we needed to do.  First, we had to lower the kids into the tank and then I got to work

Putting my husband and three little kids to work!

All the kids made it safely into the tank.

Kids out, time for me to work.  It was not easy.  Small space,
lights were shining down, no ventilation.  I was very warm. 

I'm a very funny looking fish.

See my lower extremities?  

Almost done...

...oops, I knocked over some pillows trying to get out.


Putting everything back in place.

My sign.

I am really happy with how the exhibit turned out.  The glass is cloudy but, it does look nice.  It is hard to take photos in the aquarium so hope you enjoy the gritty quality of the photography.  After we got our work done, we walked over to the conservatory to play.

The three musketeers ready to play.  

Conservatory - we actually saw a raccoon inside!

A fantastic outing!
It would be really nice if this little display resulted in a few sales.  But, as far as I am concerned, playing around in a 100 year old aquarium after hours was worth all the work.

Thursday, May 10, 2012

Swimming With Pillows: A Mother's Day Dream Come True!

I dedicate this post first to my grandpa!  He was a Cass Tech grad, WWII veteran, Detroit Mounted Police Office, Harper Hospital Security Guard, and an all round good guy.  Second, to my parents who often took me to Belle Isle as a kid to see the fish swim in America's oldest aquarium.  

Michigan Central Station
(took this picture from Wikipedia)
I love the history that just spills out of Detroit.  It is rich, it is powerful, it is gritty.  I loved going to Fort Wayne, the DIA, and the Historical Museum when I was a kid.  I can't begin to tell you how many birthdays were spent watching plays at the Youth Theater.  Mickey Miners was my hero!!!  I love that my parents took my brother and I on a day trip to Ann Arbor on a train that left out of Michigan Central Station.  Listing to my mom talk about the old Hudson's Building made it seem more like a magical castle than a department store.  She was always telling me about taking the bus downtown with Grandma Warrick and going up to the Notions Floor.  A whole floor dedicate to sewing.  My grandfather was a Detroit Mounted Police Officer.  He spent most of his career on a horse, patrolling the streets, riding in the Thanksgiving Day Parade, and making friends.  I loved listening to his stories about Detroit.  I still think about him when I am downtown.  Right now, I think he might be just a little bit proud of me because now it is my turn to contribute.  Now I have the opportunity to share my pillows and a little bit of myself with the City of Detroit.   

Belle Isle Aquarium (this picture is from their Facebook page)
The Belle Isle Aquarium is an absolute treasure in Detroit.  It opened on August 18, 1904 and closed on April 3, 2005.  The building was designed by Albert Kahn and the park itself was designed by Frederick Law Olmstead.  It was the oldest continually operating aquarium in America until it closed.  While looking into the specifics on building, I just discovered that it was a speakeasy during Prohibition.  (Thanks you, Wikipedia!)  My parents took my brother and I to Belle Isle a lot when we were growing up.  We spent time at the Anna Scripps Whitcomb Conservatory, the Dossin Museum, and the Aquarium.  As a parent, I have been able to take my own kids everywhere, except for the aquarium.  Well that all is going to change this Sunday!

Celebrate mom, see some fish, see some art, and check out my pillows!

Fabric I am going to buy from Spoonflower
This Mother's Day (Sunday, May 13th), the Belle Isle Aquarium will be open from 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. and it is free.  Some of the tanks have fish, some are empty (but not for long.)  I am so excited!  First, because I have not been there for a really, really long time. Second, because I am going to display about 20 to 30 my pillows in one of the empty tanks.  That's right!!! 715 Pillows is going to fill a fish tank full of pillows for Mother's Day and for the Grand Prix events.  I have a lot of work to do before Saturday afternoon.  I know which pillows I am going to display but I have to figure out how to display them and figure out lighting.  This all came about so fast.  The Belle Isle Conservancy announced on Facebook a couple days ago that they were looking for crafty people to create a dry exhibit - aquatic exhibits favored.  So, I e-mailed them a proposal and got myself a tank!  I am beyond excited!  I am over the moon!  Right now, I am going to stock the tank with pillows I already have.  In the next couple weeks, I am going to make some aquatic and Detroit themed pillows and will swap out my stock for the Grand Prix party on May 31st.  Tickets will are $50 and I am poor.  However, I just may need to convince my husband that we need to get dressed up and spend some money so that we can stare at my fish tank full of pillows.  

So, I am excited.  My parents are in Europe so they have not heard the good news quite yet.  My children are thrilled and want to help out. My husband will be returning home from Seattle tomorrow afternoon just in time for me to put him to work. I also asked for help from a grad school friend who comes from a very artsy family.  Would my grandpa be proud?  Hell, yeah!  I just hear his voice right now, "It's a damn shame that place closed in the first place.  I am proud of you honey baby.  Really proud."  

John Christopher, Belle Isle, 1952

Sunday, May 6, 2012

Fly, Fly, Fly, Fly

When I woke up at 5:45 a.m. on Saturday morning, I felt strange.  Not really nervous, not really apprehensive, just strange.  It was weird for me to know that I was going back to my old school.  Last year when I went back to Grand Valley State University to look around, a feeling of misery came back to me.  Two cold miserable years made tolerable by a handful of really nice friends.  When I visit Michigan State, I feel generally happy as the memories come flooding back.  But high school....  High school was a strange time.  It was better than middle school, that's for sure.  But, nevertheless, strange.  I was an average student, with average looks, with below average date-ability and popularity.  I was known for being kind of goofy (in an endearing way - I did have lots of friends), I wasn't really part of a clique or group, I fell down and ran into poles often, my first day of freshman year was so embarrassing I still cringe when thinking about it.  But even though I had fun and had a friends, upon graduation I never really looked back.  So why the hell was I getting up early on a Saturday morning to head back to my old school????
Chippewa Valley High School
Not mine, but similar.  Mine was a hand-me-down from my grandmother.  
I pulled up to my old high school in my overly stuffed, sub compact car and thought, this does not feel right.  I should be pulling up in my baby blue Buick Regal listing to a tape playing R.E.M.'s "Losing My Religion" or the Cure singing, "Friday I'm in Love."  The craft show was HUGE!!!!  There were close to 200 crafters setting up their wares in the gym, the cafeteria (oh, the dreaded cafeteria), and in hallways.  HUGE!!!  I set up my pillows and took a little walk.  I found the picture of my track team in the showcase.  That was kind of cool.  I also ran into some fellow crafters from the Troy craft show.  I thought, "Hey, I am making friends and bonding with crafters.  Coooool!!!!"  Eventually, I made my way back to my table to wait for the throngs of shoppers who were going to bust into the school and buy up every single one of my pillows.  

At about 10:45 a.m. the woman behind me says, "It is going to be a really long day.  Hope you brought your book!"  I was still optimistic.  Then my back started to hurt.  Then, my feeling started to get hurt because one person after another would walk past my booth, look at me, and not even crack a smile when I said, "Good morning!"  I was started to wonder if maybe I was just a ghost.  The day went on fairly fast.  I had visits from Kevin and the girls, the Troy crafters, and I spent a lot of time guessing in my head which instruments the band kids played.  Okay, you want to know if I sold anything?  Do you want to know if the CVHS craft show was in fact my swan song?  Yes, I am fly, fly, fly, flying away from craft shows.  I did this one because I had already committed to it but I will not do another.   It is so much work for so little return, even if I did sell and I did not.  Clearly I was not alone because everyone I spoke to was unsuccessful.  I even got an e-mail today from the organizer reassuring that promotion of the event was properly done and that vendor placement was done so that we would not be in direct competition with one another.  It was a well run show.  But I make more money on Etsy and I don't have to load, unload, and give up a Saturday to sell pillows.  It is okay!

I guess what I don't understand is why people actually do these sorts of craft shows.  Art fairs, yes, I get it.  I love art fairs.  But, as a matter of even general accounting, why?  I am not even good at math and as I walk around I just don't understand how anyone really makes money.  For example, there was a woman selling little bags that hold crayons for kids.  Very cute.  The bags included crayons and were sold for $5.  No one can put that craft together for $5.  Even if she sold bunches she would need to look at her material costs and time to make the craft, then add in the time preparing for the shows, sitting at the show, and packing up after the show.  She would be lucky to break even and the point is not to break even, it is to make a living or at least some spending money.  

So...I did not lose my religion while I was at CVHS, I did not fall down while I was at CVHS, I did however have some pretty horrible flashbacks to my days in Mr. Horton's gym class since I spent the day in the gym.  But, the craft show was a swan song.  But, I am okay!  Towards the end of the day one of the band boosters walked up to my table and said, "Do you need anything?"  Kevin was standing next to me, Violet was on my lap, and Mimi was sitting next to me and I said, "Nope, I am good, thanks."  And the woman smiles and says, "Yes, it looks to me like you have everyone you need with you right now."  And you know what?  She was right!      
Everyone I need!

Friday, May 4, 2012

Craft Show Swan Song

Tomorrow is a big day for me:  Craft show number three!!!!  It will be held at Chippewa Valley High School from 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. tomorrow.  The high school is located on 19 Mile Road in Clinton Township, east of Garfield.  My first show was Candy Cane Lane Craft Show in Berkley.  I considered it a success.  My second craft show, in Troy was an abysmal disappointment.  Basically, I have come to this conclusion about craft shows:
  1. I am picking the wrong craft shows.
  2. Craft shows may not be a good fit for my perceived demographic.
  3. Craft shows are a lot of work.
  4. Tomorrow may very well be my last craft show.
I signed up for tomorrow's craft show a couple months ago.  I don't want to back out - I never really know what might happen.  Plus, I have some hopes for success but I am not setting any goals.  What is the point?  Without goals I can't disappoint myself.  But, why do I have hopes for this show?  What makes this one different?  Who knows really. But, this is what is currently going through my mind:
1992 - My senior picture!
  1. I am a CVHS grad.  It is not like I have never been humiliated on the grounds of Chippewa Valley High School.  Tomorrow can't be any worse than any other day I spent in school.
  2. I am a CVHS grad.  I might see people I know.  This is terrifying and exciting because I have not stepped foot in my old high school since my brother graduated in 1996.
  3. The craft show is organized by the Band Boosters.  The Band Boosters organize two craft shows a year.  According to all information I can find on this show, it has been growing and they are expecting a large turnout. 
  4. The Band Boosters know how to bring people in are good at fundraising.  The band needs uniforms and they take trips, go to festivals, etc.  Maybe people will come tomorrow.
  5. If this does go well.  IF this does go well, I will sign up for their fall craft show.  
  6. If tomorrow does not go well, no more craft shows.  I will stick with Etsy as I just recently sold six pillows.  
  7. I need to pick up something to pack for lunch.  Pickings are slim in my pantry right now.  
  8. I need to pack up some pillows.  
Anyway, I have not put an ounce of pressure on myself.  I am going to have fun.  Maybe I will sell enough pillows to cover the cost of the exterminator who came to my house to free us of a honey bee colony this week.  I will be happy if I sell enough pillows and I can personally take my family out to dinner after the show.  If you are looking for something to do tomorrow or if you are in need of a throw pillow, come on out to Chippewa Valley High School tomorrow.  I actually lied, I do have one goal for tomorrow:  Not to fall down as an adult at Chippewa Valley High School!

Twenty years later...me!  

Wednesday, May 2, 2012

Pillowcases Dresses: Sew Simple!

Looking at patterns and reading directions is somewhat of a daunting task when it comes to sewing.  The diagrams and lines on a pattern can be really confusing to me.  Even the language boggles my mind.  Selvage, anyone?  Ugh!  Therefore, after opening the envelope and glancing at the directions on how to make a pillowcase dress, I simply dismissed the project until my parents returned from their month long adventure in Florida.

Last week, my mom and I decided to give the pillowcase dresses a shot.  My mom came over two times to work on the dresses and when she returned home, she continued sewing two more dresses for Mimi and Vi.  Only my mom was busy combining two dress patterns, sewing in a lining, a contrast band on Mimi's dress, and a ruffle on Vi's.  Needless to say, these dresses are fantastic and the girls look super cute in them!  But back to the pillowcase dresses.  The girls had picked out two different fabrics:  mermaids and butterflies.  Of course, Violet changed her mind and decided butterflies are not for her and decided she must have mermaids.  Mom and I were able to cut out the material so both girls could have mermaids.  Now, I can either make two more pillowcase dresses out of butterfly material or attempt something different.

I did not take pictures while my mom and I were working on Mimi's dress and Kevin was not home to stalk us with the camera.  I made Mimi's dress with help.  Violet's dress as made completely on my own.  I am pretty proud of how they both turned out.  I do not have a picture of Violet in her dress because she and I are living in a precarious time when it comes to getting dresses.  Remember, we live in Michigan and the weather has been changeable lately.  Also, when I want Vi to try the dress on, she does not want to.  When I don't need her to try it on, she very much wants to try on the dress.  She and I are at odds when it comes to getting dressed lately.  Plus, when I finished sewing the dress, this was how I found Miss Vi:

It is hard to be three!
Anyway, here is Mimi in her mermaid pillowcase dress:

Yes, Mimi is posing for this picture.  
 After Mimi's photo shoot, this was how I found Miss Vi:

How is that even comfortable???
All in all, if you want to make a pillowcase dress, give it a try.  Mimi's dress took a about five hours with my mom.  Violet dress took about four hours since it was my second try.  Basically, you cut out a front and a back and sew the seams.  Piece of cake!!!!