Monday, January 30, 2012

Eames Tulip Table the (Not Yet) Hard Way

So, since it appears that electrical items are not my strong suit, I am also keeping busy fashioning items without cords, volts, amps, watts, transformers, terminals, AC/DC and all that other stuff that my old brain can't understand.  The shell chair is not turning out, yet.  I tried shaping the pink version in the picture by hand, and the white version I molded using the protective clam that came from a Reac Japan chair.  I am slipping in a few purchases in the name of R & D.  Neither of my attempts is close enough to the real thing to satisfy me.  I have a plan C, though, so don't despair.  Or, plan D might be resort to sanding the ones I've already made, just to see if they're at all close.  The Eiffel base is also proving difficult, as you can see in the other photo, even with the right solder and flux.  Each version looks better, though, so it may be a question of practice. 

I am, thankfully, making headway in the Eames tulip table department.  For my first model I made an armature out of aluminum foil, and then I sculpted it with Sculpey.  It baked just fine, but when I went to sand it, it fell apart at the thin part.  That was okay, since I didn't compute the scale correctly anyhow.  So I then bought a 1/16" basswood dowel, then covered it with aluminum foil, and sculpt it again, and that one didn't break in two.  That thin, fragile dowel that broke when, at home but not yet out of the plastic shopping bag, it hit the wall, is supporting my table base.  The sanded base in the picture now looks nice, wouldn't you say?  The top will just be a circle - easy!  I have to decide if I want to make it "marble" like the Arco base.  I bought rubber latex to make a mold, and then I will crank out copies to be sold.  Why do I feel like the mold/casting process will be filled with opportunities?  Right now, You're laughing at my use of the term "crank out", aren't you, God?

Saturday, January 28, 2012

Build an Nearly Working Miniature Arco Lamp In 19 Easy Steps

I have always coveted the Arco lamp by Castiglione. I came tantalizingly close to scoring one for $300 from an antique dealer in Grand Rapids, Michigan. It one one of those galleries that was never open and you had to call for an appointment. But, the owner was a friend of a friend, and the lamp was in his attic. Can I tell you that the inside of this man's house was one of the most exciting I had ever been in? He had mid-century modern things piled everywhere (it didn't create the spare, minimal environment one normally associates with these pieces). Anyhow, the lamp was in his attic, and it was hot and stuffy and crowded, and I said we'd do it another time. Two weeks later he was killed in a car crash and his antiques were sold at auction in New York City (NEW YORK CITY!?!?!).

So, now that I'm making miniatures, one of the first things I thought of making was the lamp. Would you like to try to make a Castiglione Arco lamp on your own, as well? Here's what you'll need to create one:

  1. (Optional) Buy K & S aluminum tubes in sizes 1/8" and 1/16" sizes, and find out that these are too big and too small respectively.
  2. Take a small, silver plastic Christmas ornament and cut through it with a hot knife. I found my ornaments in a Salvation Army store. I would imagine you could find them at a Christmas shop, but my preliminary internet searches have turned up none quite the right size. Make a hole in the cut ornament with a heated paper clip. This will be your shade.
  3. Buy K & S aluminum tubes in 3/32" size. I bought mine at Dick Blick's, but you can order them here. Luckily, these are exactly the right size for this project, so you don't need the blades that I bought for the Exacto knife that I bought at Dick Blick's.
  4. Thread your shade and your wire through the tube now, so that the tube won't kink when you're bending it, and also so that you don't want to take a hostage trying to get the wire through a tube with a curve in it. Trust me on this last tip.  The wire I used is phone cord wire, but only one wire fit through the tube, so husband told me with such low voltage I could just solder the light to the tube and use that as to conduct the current.  Okay.
  5. Download an image of the Arco lamp and scale it down. For my purposes, I chose the 1/12 scale. So, the actual lamp is 8' tall, so in Photoshop, resize the image to be 8" tall. In the words of David St. Hubbins, "I think that the problem may have been that there was a Stonehenge monument on stage that was in danger of being crushed by a dwarf. Alright? That tended to understate the hugeness of the object."
  6. Print out the image and make a jig (look at me, using words like "jig" with its non-dancey interpretation) by pounding nails along the shape of the arc. Curve the tube along the jig. Now you have a nice arc shape in the correct scale. Now, the fun really begins.
  7. Buy a AA single battery case and some random LED's from your local Radio Shack. Take them home and become educated from your electrical engineer husband about voltage. Seems that AA batteries have 1.5 volts, and most of your LED's are 6V. This, apparently, will not work.
  8. Take most of the LED's back to Radio Shack except for the correct voltage LED. Then puzzle about how to fashion a nice looking case for the battery holder.
  9. Create a template for a net to create a cardboard box to cover box. This will be easy, since you teach math by day and you are a net master. Then realize that you are not a Photoshop master, and it will be harder than you thought. After you finish it, and build it, you realize that it will be too flimsy and there is no way to switch it on and off, nor can you open it to change the battery. Buy switches from Radio Shack.
  10. Around this time, you will realize that using the tube to conduct would work great, except that the aforementioned tube is aluminum, and I covered soldering aluminum in a previous post.  I actually bought aluminum flux, but when I received it in the mail, my husband told me it was welding flux, and it's not the same, or so I'm told.  I had no idea the depths of my ignorance regarding some topics.  Return flux.
  11. Fiddle around with button cell candle things bought at the dollar store.  It comes with a switch!  Cut open case.  Then figure out that the candle light flickers, and you don't want your lamp to flicker.  I knew the candle flickered when I bought it, but I thought there might be a flicker chip or a flickerization capacitor or some such thing that could simply be removed.  No such luck.  Awareness of ignorance deepens yet again. 
  12. Decide on electrical power. Return switches and battery cases. Buy bulbs with socket and cord. I got mine at AC Moore's on sale for $5 a pair, but you can buy them here. Try your best not to take a prisoner now, as you have now threaded another wire through your previously bent tube.
  13. Make a base out of Sculpey clay. Make a hole in it using one of the aluminum tubes you bought. Realize that this now ruins the tube, since it is now filled with clay.
  14. Print out some pictures of marble. I used this image. Mod Podge that onto the Sculpey base.
  15. Thread the wire through the base, and reattach the plug.
  16. Realize that your lamp is now top-heavy. Swear and pound fists. Puzzle now on how to make the base heavier (fishing sinkers? pie weights?)
  17. Now buy an outlet strip and transformer. I bought the outlet strip from ebay, and I purchased the transformer at AC Moore with a 50% off coupon.
  18. Would you believe that the outlet and the transformer don't fit together correctly? At this point, it becomes funny.  My transformer is for copper tape dollhouse electricity.  I need the one for round wire.  Duh!  Return it.  Order what I sincerely hope is the correct one.
  19. Rethink battery idea. Battery holders come with covers. Buy dollhouse conductive, 2-strand wire. Mod Podge marble image to battery case.
I am tantalizingly close to have my first working Arco lamp. The one in the picture is the electrically untested, top-heavy version, which is why it is leaning on the pink plastic thing. I will post the spectacular, working results AS SOON AS I HAVE A WORKING LIGHT. If you don't want to do this THE HARD WAY, I'm selling these in my store. That way you can enjoy your working Arco lamp, without the time and money spent trying to build it yourself. Either way, an Arco lamp is cool and fun, except when you're actually trying to make it.

Maybe I'm not quite as "made" for this as I had assumed. I will persevere, however. It will only be the electronics that will be this difficult. That, and the soldering. But, didn't my couch come out cute?

Thursday, January 26, 2012

Civility on Decline


She is just behaving yucky

It seems every year around this time, our society takes another step away from grace and class. Was it last year that a congressman shouted "liar"? People are angry, and I get that. But waving a finger in the president's face when you're supposed to be welcoming him as a figurehead and representative of the state is just tacky. I've been the recipient of many parents' misplaced anger, and as unpleasant as it is, what's even worse is the fact that not a single one ever apologized. It was never about me, and I knew that, but it would have been nice to hear them say a little "my bad". And, this crass governor does not seem at all repentant for her behavior.

I'm concerned. Just today, I passed by a school bus and was struck by a bag of nachos that was thrown out the window, which is lovely. But, what bothers me more is that, while following the bus for a few blocks, the children inside where making rude gestures (vulgar, really), pointing, and laughing, as if I was the object of derision when they were the ones acting like animals. I know that kids have been mean since time immemorial, but it is so allowed in today's culture. Why didn't the bus driver at least request that the kids sit down? (Don't answer that, because I know why. He's got a schedule.  And I'm sure bus drivers have long ago abandoned trying to get students to behave.  Teachers can't even do this.)  And when they are injured because they weren't behaving, there will be a sad, innocent face on television with the voice over actor saying ominously, "a child hurt while just trying to get to school." It's all just too yucky for me.

Saturday, January 21, 2012

How to See if it's Really the Teachers' Fault - Blame Teachers for All Schools' Ills

So, one of the purported goals of this blog is to address the problem with education in this country. I don't know anyone who doesn't think there is a problem with education in this country; the trouble is, what can we do about it? It would be great if we could blame the teachers; that would be so easy. And, to be honest, teaching was not drawing the best and the brightest for quite some time. Teachers were not of the best caliber, especially in hard-to-staff schools. Because, let's be real, who wanted to go into tough and sometimes dangerous schools for peanuts for pay? There wasn't exactly a bunch of Ivy League graduates lining up for those gigs. When I was considering a career, there was a stigma about teachers; I didn't view them as smart. But, now there's a recession and a teaching gig is seen as a secure career, with a tenure. So, suddenly, people who weren't interested (like me) consider it desirable.

It's NOT the teachers! Are there bad teachers? YES! When I first started, I knew 6th grade teachers who couldn't add fractions, teachers that somehow managed to FALL ASLEEP while kids were rioting around them, and teachers who just had kids decorate things and draw rather than teach. As long as the school could get a body to supervise a classroom, they didn't really care what was going on inside. Of course, in schools where taxes are high and parent involvement is much higher, you could always get competent people. It has been a LONG time since I have seen a terrible teacher merely babysitting students. I have worked in some tough schools and seen some really stupid people (lovely people, with good hearts, but dumb) in front of a class. I still work in a "tough" school, and teachers are no longer slouches, let me tell you. There is competition for teaching jobs now. Schools can find people with skills and experience and work ethic, and they no longer have to settle for anyone desperate enough to want to work at an inner-city school. Everyone is desperate nowadays.

So, can we just establish that it is not the teachers? If anyone doubts this, I propose an experiment. If teachers really have that kind of power to improve children's skills to the degree that the powers-that-be would like you to believe, then proving it is simple. Take the teachers whose students are scoring the highest on standardized tests (from the wealthy schools) and those who are gettting the lowest (in the 'hood), and interchange them for a year. Just one year. Let's see who the better teachers are then, okay? Do you really believe that the teachers from the well-to-do schools are going to show gains with the at-need students? Really? And do you expect those inner-city teachers to suddenly post less-than-stellar scores for the better-off kids? This defies logic.
I dare any politician to propose this test. It's common sense, so I know that no one would ever dream of doing this. I've taught in poor, crime-ridden, gang-infested neighborhoods. I've had homeless children, and children living without parents in shelters. The scores of those students were, not unexpectedly, not good. I've taught in middle class schools were my students scored unbelieveably well. The factor that changed was not the teacher. Teachers are always perfecting their craft, so how can you explain experience cannot account for my students' variation in scores? I'd love for a talking head to answer this directly and honestly. A woman can dream, can't she?

Friday, January 20, 2012

Big Apple for the Teacher


First Premise:

This blog is not one of a jaded, embittered teacher, or at least, that is not the point of this blog. It is quite hard to teach and not rail against the many, many forces that seem to thwart your good intentions. And so, on the subject of intentions, let me state my first premise: almost all teachers have good, or dare I say, noble, intentions. You will be able to find exceptions to this, of course. But the exception proves the rule; it does not represent the entire population.

Before my tenure as a teacher, I worked in the technology industry. I became disenchanted with my profession, which I had loved, when the “dot com” boom and subsequent bust rendered so much of my work, along with the companies I had worked for, useless and obsolete. I wanted a more permanent, meaningful profession. I had always been a “bleeding heart” liberal who believed that every child had potential for greatness, but that most kids just follow the norm of their parents, neighbors, and friends. That is to say that rich kids tend to stay rich, middle class kids remain middle class (or, at least, they still did when I was contemplating my career choices) and poor kids stay poor, with very few, but highly celebrated, exceptions. In short, I become a teacher for noble reasons. I believed then, and still do, that all children can learn and all deserve an opportunity to learn.

Second Premise:

There are many articles written, many editorials given, many a political speech about the trouble with education today. Very few people who write articles or editorials, and even less people who give political speeches actually have any experience in public education and have little to no credibility on the subject. It’s angering to read or listen to these people complain about teachers when my coworkers and I face unbelievable challenges daily and still aren’t doing enough according to those who have no idea how hard it is. And this brings me to the second premise of my blog: teaching, like parenting, is so difficult that it is hard to explain it to anyone who has not experienced it. If there is a current or former public school teacher out there that says that teaching is easy, please bring this person to my attention. I challenge anyone to find such a person.

I want to share my insights as someone who has been on the front lines. I have experienced success and failure in my classrooms and as a parent. I hope to present an honest, fair, realistic presentation of what is ailing education today. Simple answers make great sound bites, but they are rarely effective policy. My blog will not only present the problems in public education today, but hopefully will present some novel and thought-provoking solutions.

I became a teacher for altruistic reasons. Please take this blog, my opinions, and suggestions in that same spirit. In other words, don't fire me! Or, at least not for writing this blog.

Sunday, January 15, 2012

Miniature Business Name


I'm starting a modern miniature business. I'd like to convey a non-granny, fun, different, stylish dollhouse company. If anyone has ever contemplated a dollhouse for their daughter, grand-daughter, niece or, let's be honest, oneself, then you know that dollhouse furnishings tend to be rather old-fashioned. Barbie has a more modern sensibility, but her's is a wee bit girly and definitely single-girl-on-the-prowl. I like fun as much as the next person, but hot pink swirly plastic stuff is just a little too tres, no? What is a design enthusiast and a miniature lover supposed to do? Well, thank goodness that I'm filling this huge need for stylish dollhouse things!!! Here are some ideas for names:

Teensy Weensy - doesn't exactly convey stylish, but not exactly fuddy-duddy, either. Too cute?
Nanomod - Very hip. But is it too techy sounding?
La Petite Maison - too pretentious? But, pretentious kind of sums me and my business up well.
Gossamod - gossamer + modern, get it? Anyone?

Which do you like the best? Any other ideas?

Tuesday, January 10, 2012

My Nascent Business and Why I'm Made for It

I have finally found a business that does not totally overwhelm me, and, bonus, it interests me. My business is going to fuse my life-long love of miniatures with my adult passion for design: Modern miniatures. If you too are tired of all your dollhouse miniatures consisting of butterchurns, kerosene lamps, and lacey curtains, I have the answer.

Due to extreme near-sightedness, combined with a lack of glasses for the first 10 years of my life, I, not surprisingly, turned inwards. When I went to the beach, did I look at the horizon and take in the crashing waves and dazzling, glinting light? No, because I could not see it. I looked instead for the teensiest shells that then adorned my Dawn dolls' shoebox camper. When I was around 10 years old (hmmm...a lot happened that year), my parents built me a dollhouse. My father constructed the wooden elements, including carved shutters and an end-of-a-popsicle-stick doorknob which really captured my sisters' and my attention. My mother wallpapered, crocheted rugs and, most fascinatingly, sewed cardboard living room furniture. Although my dolls always hit their heads when they went up the stairs, it was easily the best gift I've ever received, because it sparked my creativity. I was quickly fashioning quill paper plants, baking mini-breads and even sewing together small books that I then filled with mini-pictures (this was before photoshop and home computing, so I just cut out pictures in the background of pictures - it never occured to me to take a picture of something far away and use that as a picture). I loved filling my dollhouse with the items that made it a home. And I'm having just as much fun today trying my hand at making some of my favorite modern design classics.

Sunday, January 8, 2012

Soldering Success

Do you know how to solder? I spent the better part of this week learning how. I thought it was a simple process...NooooOOOOoooo. My husband has the equipment from his electrical engineering days, so I thought, let's just grab the stuff and solder. But, I don't want to solder electrical wires, and it turns out, you need different soldering things for this. Like flux. Ah, the world of flux. And, little factoid for you all, did you know that if you're soldering aluminum you need aluminum flux? Neither did I. So, after a week's worth of frustration and research, I have successfully soldered!!!! Cue the confetti!

So, why all the fuss about soldering? I'm trying to make mini Eiffel base chairs. Yes, that is correct. Why, you ask? I'll leave you in suspense on that one. So, first part done. Next part, learning how to sculpt the fiberglass seats. That should take about a month.

Wednesday, January 4, 2012

Parents Who Don't Care

I was reminded yesterday just how misguided our politicians and pundits are when they blame teachers for the failures of students. I have been trying to contact a certain parent since the school year started regarding her daughter's lack of interest in anything academic. My phone calls were never returned. Then, the day before vacation, her daughter had out a cell phone. Since it was two days before Christmas, I charitably told her to put it away, although it's policy to confiscate it. When she was texting five minutes later, I took the phone. And that's why I finally met the mother. If a parent only contacts a teacher to retrieve a forbidden item but not to touch base on her daughter's progress in class, just what is a teacher supposed to do to improve this girl's priorities? If you have any ideas, please let me know!

Sunday, January 1, 2012

One Post in 2011? Let's Shoot for 2 in 2012!

Well, the before has L in the picture,
but the peach curtains look better
Well, the whole blogging thing is not taking off as I'd hoped. The goal of this blog is to talk about things I'm interested in and projects I've done or am in the process of completing or am still envisioning in my head. Maybe I'll talk about how the projects I've finished overlap with how they were originally imagined. Or projects that I started and never finished. Ah, now that would have to have more than 2 posts! So, let's start with a project highlight and a lowlight from 2011.

Most successful project: Dyeing and hemming curtains. I found 4 linen panels at a thrift store for $7.00/panel in Chicago exactly a year ago. Since I don't live in Chicago, I had to leave them with my family until I could get back with my car over the summer of 2011. On that same summer trip, I visited Dick Blicks and bought peach fabric dye. Once I got them home, I dyed 2 panels and "hemmed" them with fabric glue. I only did two because I left one of the panels in Chicago. When my parents brought the last panel on a visit in October, I dyed and "hemmed" the second pair. The hardest part of this project was the ironing. They still look rumpled to me, but I'm sure no one else notices, right? But I love the color, the fabric, and the price tag!

Worst project: Octopus chandelier.

I still like the end result, but husband is not so sure. It was supposed to look like an Adam Wallaclavage. I'll let you google that image, as I'm not going to make it easy on you to compare his to mine. Not able to install this one, so some lucky Salvation Army customer will be the recipient of this wonder. The building process involved a found 5-arm chandelier, paper clip and tin foil armature, paper mache, plaster of paris, spray paint, and hot glued oven-dried clay tentacles. The eyes are marbles. All that work...

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