Wednesday, June 24, 2015


I was standing in the kitchen at the stove, stirring a she-crab soup for the family’s annual Summer Kick-off Party. Harleigh was sitting within eye shot, in the ken, looking at Pinterest on her phone. “I think I’m a hummer,” I said, my mouth askew in a grimace. She sat upright, incredulous. “No, Mom, no. Please don’t. That’s bad.” I explained the transformation, neither defensive nor apologetic. It simply is what it is. As of late I’ve been humming a lot. Certain songs dominate the playlist. I do it when I’m alone and when I'm around people. I catch myself doing it at work, and while it’s been greeted with smiles, there’s going to come a point where people become annoyed, slipping on their earphones or snatching their laptops to go work in another part of the office. I don’t want to be "that" person.

I’ve known a few hummers in my life. The most blatant of them all was a dentist. Many moons ago I went to a practice with a handful of dentists. There was one that I always asked for, pleasant and non-chatty, the way I like ‘em. When I was told that I needed a filling, I requested Dr. Pleasant and Non-chatty, but he was booked solid for the next several weeks, and I really did want to get this off my list. So I opted for another in the practice who had an immediate opening. He was nice enough, but the minute the rubber gloves went on and the sterile stainless tools invaded my mouth, the humming began. And didn’t stop. I closed my eyes, thinking that would make it less invasive, but it only made it more comical as I lay there thinking of whether anyone had actually called him out on it. Asked him to stop. Asked him why he did it. Needless to say, I never went back to him.

I looked it up online and found that many people hum as a simple and effective way to ease tension and reduce stress. For some, it improves sinus health, creating vibration in the sinus cavity, which helps to eliminate congestion. Another guess is that humming is little bits of joy bubbling from your unconscious. As it relates to my own irritating warbling, I’ll go with this one. And for the sake of my daughter, who looked at me like I’d become someone she could no longer stomach, consider the habit squelched.

Sunday, June 7, 2015

Scooter and the Beauty Within

When I was in high school, popularity eluded me. I was liked by what I consider to be a large number of people, fellow students and teachers alike. I was fun to be around, a good and dry sense of humor tempered with a seriousness that made for trusting and deep friendships. I was involved in many extra curricular activities, but no sports, which would have put me onto a different and probably higher rung on the popularity ladder. As I saw it, I was probably about 1/3 up on that ladder, a likable girl with a complicated beauty, the kind of prettiness that people can't explain, the kind of pretty that people refer to as coming from within, maybe because they can't truthfully call me pretty. Not the kind of beauty I'd have hoped for when I was a 16 year old. Growing into a handsome woman would be my legacy.

Popularity, like true beauty, is effortless. The popular and beautiful simply are. And the fact that I was desperate and willing to work to be both or even a little of one proved that I would be neither. I excelled in my studies, and throughout my school years was always a high achiever, sometimes a bit hard on myself. I was artistic, and could see a future, a career, which would put this talent to use.

I definitely wasn't one of the "it" girls. Not on the cheerleading squad. Not possessing the kind of cuteness that boys that age found intoxicating. Not overly confident in myself and my body. I remember at the time adults saying that they'd love to live their high school years again, and me thinking that these years were what I wanted to run from, only to look back on the positive, what little there was of it.

I began entertaining the idea of a nickname. What if I had one? Would it make me feel different? More confident and special? It was worth a shot . . . . . . . Scooter. Where I came up with it I have no idea. But I pitched it to my sister. "Just start calling me Scooter," I ordered, oblivious to how awkward she might feel doing so for the first time, but instead focusing on the glances I'd get from people knowing that this was obviously not my birth name but a moniker bestowed on me out of a certain circumstance or by one who loved me dearly. Either way, it meant I was special. Sister refused. And the nickname campaign died.

Fast forward. In my early 30's, a single mom, spending time with Lisa, a work friend who turned into an Anne Shirley kindred spirit kind of friend. Probably a couple glasses of wine into the conversation, I told her this story, the Scooter crusade that fizzled but was never forgotten.

Now you have to know Lisa. "Lisa the Jew" I call her. To her face. And she wears it like a designer label. She's Jewish. I'm Christian. And her nickname was born because she always said "Everyone needs a Jew." I can't recall her ever explaining that comment. All I know is that I believed those four words without question. The bottom line  — I don't think that it was as much "Everyone needs a Jew" as much as it was "Everyone needs a Lisa."

And Lisa said to me, "You WILL be Scooter." And to this day, she calls me Scooter.

I've told this story a number of times since that Chardonnay night with Lisa the Jew. And some friends have jumped on the Scooter train. And I'm forever grateful.

Last month, my bosses (a husband and wife team) threw their son a high school graduation party. They had it at our office, a chic and open space at Atlantic Station. As the planning commenced and I heard bits and bobs of conversation about the challenges and details of throwing a successful and heartfelt event, I decided to offer up my services. It's easy for me. Comes second nature. And I want people to throw parties and events that their guests enjoy and remember.

The night was a huge success. Because I had helped plan the night, and then helped to set up, run the party, and help with tear down, my bosses could enjoy celebrating their son, without having to deal with the minutiae that comes with throwing a big shindig. It's all I ask of any event that I'm overseeing: People enjoy.

As a thank you, they gifted me with this bag. Now ya gotta know that I love me a good tote. And this particular tote sports my nickname. Scooter. S-C-O-O-T-E-R. I may not be the most popular girl, but I do feel special. Beyond special.  I feel appreciated. That, my friends, is what I see when I look at this embroidered name. Popularity is overrated. Appreciated is everything.

To note, I'm known at my place of business for the nicknames I give people. It's a gift. The names come to me, like a vision, a fuzzy but legible word in a crystal ball. They are epic. I keep a list of them. And the nickname I gave myself may be the greatest one of all.

Thursday, June 4, 2015

Everest VBS

As was last year, the motto for our VBS was "Go Big, Or Go Home."
And with a theme like Everest, of course we had no choice but to go big.

I duplicated Group's giant mountains, using 2" thick foam board and a hot knife for carving. I went a different route than Group for the carved dimensionalizing, and opted instead for something a little more irregular. By using blue foam board, I didn't even have to paint the carved-out sections. The melted foam board in the indentations took on a darker blue,  and looked very real. I painted on the white snow without diluting it.

You can get a sense below of how massive this stage set was.
For the clouds I used 4" nails on the front of the mountains and skewers on the edges when 
I wanted the batting clouds to be placed outside of the outline of the mountain.

You can't see here, but the mountains are leaning on chairs. They're heavy enough to not fall over. The men volunteers did brace the largest mountain using fishing line. The memory buddies were mounted to 1/16" foam board  and cut out using a small electric hot exacto knife. It was a lot of work to cut them out like this, but worth the effort, as I  prefer them as freestanding figures rather than with their backgrounds.

Large plastic snowflakes hung in the arches of the two doorways flanking Mt. Everest.

My office workplace, when moving and purging, was giving away a bunch of giant white IKEA curtains, so I nabbed those, using them for a snowy ground.

Maybe one of my favorite items was this guy on top of rocks. With all the leftover 2" thick foam board, we were able to make lots of rocks. A pair of skewers stuck into the foam board base and then carefully up through the memory buddy's base made him sturdy and unmoving. The snow on the rocks is made of thin sheets of batting  (I think they're made for quilting).

The thinness of the bird's feet made it difficult to place him on the ground (without having to make a base of some sort), so we stuck him to the back of the mountain using a couple nails.

The seams on the boards was a bit more visible than I would have liked,  but I was antsy to get them painted and move on to the next project. I guarantee there were no children whispering to each other behind a cupped hand and pointing to "those embarrassingly sloppy seams."

For base camp, we used a small tent, fake rocks, a lantern and a pair of my hiking boots.
The ropes with the fabric ties was a last-minute add on that was a nice touch.
The edges of the steps got a little snow.
And the campfire was made using the electric "flame" from Group surrounded
with a batch of firewood, and placed on brown fabric.

At the entrance to the sanctuary, volunteers hung plastic snowflakes of 
different sizes from the balcony railing.
The six windows between the sanctuary and the narthex 
were sprayed with Santa brand artificial ice crystals.

 It's super cool the way it sprays on like water, and then as it dries it forms crystals.
And it comes off easily with water.

As soon as I knew what our theme was this year, I called Stone Summit, a local indoor rock climbing facility, and asked if they might have any old rope to donate. Turns out that they "retire" rope after a certain amount of time AND it comes in all these beautiful colors. The owner was super nice and collected it for me; I'd stop by once a month to pick it up. (For liability reasons, I had to vow that the ropes would not be used for climbing, but strictly decor.)

I decided to use them for the pew markers.

I cut the pieces into uniform sizes and then duct-taped each into a single piece. I looped them over the ends of the pews three times. I purchased a rainbow of caribiners from Walmart for something like 69 cents a piece, clipping a carabiner on the bottom-most loop of each marker. Then from each carabiner I hung a memory buddy. Each memory buddy was cut out and glued onto a piece of foam (I used six different colors foam). Each piece of foam was slipped into a clear plastic sleeve (I used the three-ring kind you get at an office supply store, cutting off the three-hole-punched strip). To make the hole that the carabiner slipped through, my standard hole punch wasn't big enough, but a grommet maker proved perfect for stamping out the hole; using the actual grommet wasn't necessary.

With the extra rope — most of it in smaller lengths — I was able to create tactile stations, 
decorating everything from railings to doorknobs.

Here, the door to the sanctuary gets a rope treatment on the doorknobs 
and a little snow in the windows.

On the Saturday before VBS I usually wind up with a few wish-list items. And depending on the pool of volunteers I get, sometimes I can cross items off the list as "done." Well this year I pulled out my phone, hit the Pinterest app, and showed one of my tried-and-true guys a directional sign. Within less than a half hour he had combed the church, found scrap pieces of wood, and fashioned me this. 

One of my creative high school volunteers gladly tackled this project.
Its base wrapped in a snowy white sheet, and a memory buddy to wave a welcoming hello, 
this was one perfect last-minute addition!!!!

Look at the cute bite marks in the "Snacks" sign.

Ok, so about a month, maybe more, before VBS I decided that I wanted to tackle the plastic milk jug igloo. Announcements went into the bulletins, were posted on Facebook, pleas made via email . . . all to collect the 428 jugs needed to build the igloo. The amassing went slowly. Then our VBS director hit a goldmine. Did you know that a single Starbucks location goes through 60 jugs A DAY???? So we hit up our local Starbucks and they were all too happy to help. On the Sunday before VBS the igloo was completed. We did have to buy some water for the last of the jugs. And the igloo builder did have to fill in the top of the igloo with an engineered pool noodle dome. But that was easily covered with the piece of batting snow that I had already planned on putting on top. OK. THIS. WAS. SO. WORTH. THE. FREAKING. OUT. AND. EFFORT. TO. GET. JUGS.

Built on a base of white sheets and against the Group mural backdrop, the igloo will be used by our official VBS photographer to take the individual camper photos.

The inside of the igloo.

Originally I was taking the caps off so that the insides could get dry and stink-free. But it's better to leave the lids on for these reasons:

1) It keeps the stink in. Even though I had aired out the jugs, they still stunk and had to be rinsed out. Even still, they still stunk.

2) The igloo builder said that the lids kept air in the jugs and made them easier to glue together. The jugs without the lids would flatten more when glued together.

3) The colorful lids make for a way-more-fun experience inside. Sorta like a mullet (business in the front, party in the back), by keeping the lids on, you get the juxtaposition of realism on the outside and whimsical on the inside.

NOTE: The yellow jugs were well worth making a part of the igloo. Seems the polar bears tinkled on the ice that made those blocks.

On the snack tables we used white plastic tablecloths. Clear glass blocks (the kind you buy at Home Depot) gave the look of blocks of ice. Wearing rubber gloves, we took durafoam balls (these are better than styrofoam because they're solid), sprayed them with an adhesive (don't spray too close or the glue will turn yellow; make it a light mist), then roll them in faux snow. There are all kinds of fake snow, but the "flurries" are the best, capturing the most realistic look of snowballs.

Plastic snowflakes were used as the base and leaning against the glass blocks. The memory buddies were printed and cut out, and anchored using skewers. A sprinkling of Epsom Salts was the final touch in creating a winter wonderland centerpiece.

For the front doors of the church, snowshoes were crafted using string and cardboard. 
Easy peasy (and hung with Command strips for easy takedown).

For Bible Expeditions,  the tomb walls were easy to construct from the 2" foam board.
The blankets were leftovers from Hometown Nazareth VBS.

I wasn't totally into the brown paper and pool noodle tree that Group suggested, so I found three 6' long mailing tubes, duct-taped them together and then papier-mached a tree.

As janky as it is, I concluded that I wasn't really up for papier-maching the limbs. 
So I found branches, and we glued on cut-out-from-felt leaves.
Harleigh thought the awkward transition between trunk and branches was beyond awkward, but . . .

. . . all that is trumped by the cute little Beanie Baby owl 
who's taken up residence in one of the knotted holes.

For the river, we used a shimmery fabric. I found fish and lily pad images online, 
printed and cut them out, and then taped them onto the fabric.

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