Saturday, December 19, 2009

A Place of His Own

Learning to build with no prior experience

Originally published in the Santa Cruz Sentinel, December 19, 2009

“We make our buildings and afterwards they make us. They regulate the course of our lives.”—Winston Churchill

All around my home are small and large scraps of paper with lists of words like “gutter spikes,” “shims,” and “Z-bar flashing”—terms I might not have even recognized four months ago. These were my weekly shopping lists, accumulated over the last three months as I built my husband a writing studio for Christmas.

Actually the “I” in that last sentence is a bit of a stretch—I actually had lots of help, but I did select the design, order and purchase the plans and materials, and do about half the cutting, carrying, lifting, hammering, etc. The other half of the construction (and all the heavy lifting) was done by my strong husband. And because neither of us is very handy or has the least bit of building experience, there were a myriad of others who came through when we had a question, a problem, or a disaster (remember that huge storm we had in October?)

So, for my fellow wannabe builders, I’d like to share what I’ve learned from this experience. Apparently anyone can put together a sound structure—the studio in our front yard is proof of that—but it’s going to take a lot of patience, friends, and bent nails before you really begin to know what you’re doing.

Another company, San Francisco-based Modern Cabana, offers pre-assembled panels to speed up the installation of their small, stylish buildings that they say can be built by two adults with construction experience (and fatter wallets) in a few days. By comparison, our Summerwood studio, which was basically built from scratch, took us three months of weekends.

The first order of business was settling on a design that included building instructions. There are books on building everything from a storage shed to a three-bedroom home with plumbing and electricity. The two that I found most helpful were, “Sheds—The Do-It-Yourself Guide for Backyard Builders” by David and Jeanie Stiles, and “Habitat for Humanity--How to Build a House” by Larry Haun. What we were striving to build was something the size of a shed, but more permanent and inviting, like house, so these books helped us meld the two concepts.

Although “Sheds” and a few websites provided plans for various sizes and styles of small buildings, I liked Summerwood, a Canadian company with an interactive website, from which you can order plans and instructions, with or without materials. From their selection of outdoor structures I chose “Urban Studio” and used their custom design feature to help visualize placement of windows, doors, and other add-ons.

Most of the big items (lumber, windows and a door) we purchased from Big Creek Lumber in Watsonville. The rubber roofingcame from Flat Roof Solutions in Tennessee; the redwood bevel siding came from McKinnon Lumber in Hollister; and the regular doses of inspiration were gathered from Michael Pollan’s book “A Place of My Own—the Architecture of Daydreams” about his own experience of building a writing house in the woods of Vermont. (You can view his beautiful studio at

Pollan was especially helpful in bolstering my belief that my building was going to be more than just a shelter. I could have gone out and bought one of those inexpensive, easy-to-assemble shed kits if all I wanted was a roof and four walls. But this was going to be my husband’s oasis, a place where his imagination could flourish and his writing would take flight. It had to be more than just practical, and I was willing to spend a little more to make it so.

Pollan admits his 14x8 ½ foot cabin took 2 ½ years to build and cost “somewhere on the far side of $125 a square foot.” Since we’ve only finished the exterior, this is not an apples-to-apples comparison, but so far we’ve spent $54.26 per square foot on our building. I know it could have been done more cheaply, but we’re happy with the results (although, I’ll admit, my husband hasn’t actually seen the VISA bills lately).

So, three months after sawing the first piece of lumber, here’s what I’ve learned in a nutshell:

  1. There are five ways to do just about everything—watch all the YouTube videos on installing windows if you don’t believe me.
  2. You’ll need about 10 times as many nails as you think.
  3. Lumber is not always straight.
  4. Two people can have very different ideas about what’s good enough. One person’s “anal” is another person’s “sloppy.”
  5. A 2x4 piece of lumber is actually 1-1/2” x 3-1/2”.
  6. Building supplies/techniques used in Canada do not always make sense in California.
  7. Buy or borrow at least two 8-foot ladders.
  8. Invest in a good framing hammer, a tool belt, a longer level, a strong crowbar, numerous small drill bits (you’ll lose ‘em), a plumb bob, and a new blade for your saw(s).
  9. Keep a steady supply of Band-Aids on hand.
  10. Find/hire an experienced carpenter willing to serve as your construction hotline—as you build, you’ll have questions that need quick answers before you can go on.

As essential as it is to have one expert willing to act as advisor, there will be many others who help make your building a reality. To give you an idea of the depth and breadth of those we enlisted every step of the way, we’d sincerely like to thank:

  • All those at Ace, Orchard Supply, Home Depot and Lowes who shared their know-how and pointed the way to the right box of nails
  • Francisco at Big Creek Lumber, who patiently helped me order and reorder the right materials for the job
  • Grant, for going over the initial plans and designing a solid foundation from pier blocks and pressure-treated wood
  • Dan and Chris, who rushed over to help us lift our way-too-heavy first wall
  • Seal, for lending us his ladder and showing us how to tie his tarp over our roofless walls in the midst of a drenching gale
  • John, for installing the door and windows, and providing lots of ideas and encouragement
  • Mike, for being on call day and night, whenever we needed him.

Thank you one and all and especially to my husband. We did it together.


Could a lost craft be the next big thing?

Originally published in the Santa Cruz Sentinel November 14, 2009

Without a doubt, the most popular crafts in the U.S. are knitting, quilting and scrapbooking. The number of books publish

ed and space devoted in craft stores to these pursuits far exceeds the other contenders. So, with all the creative possibilities in the world, what makes these three so appealing?

To begin with, the materials and tools are very available and inexpensive. Knitting, for example, can be done with just three things: knitting needles, yarn and scissors. What could be simpler?

Secondly, the materials and tools are portable and don’t demand a dedicated workspace. They aren’t bulky like woodshop machinery or messy like paints. They can be done in your home—at the kitchen table or in a comfortable chair.

Finally, knitting, quilting and scrapbooking have socializing appeal—all three can be done communally in regular gatherings and workshops (actual and virtual) with other devotees.

The cycle of crafts

Age-old crafts like knitting, quilting and scrapbooking have enjoyed swells in popu

larity at certain periods in history for a variety of reasons. For example, knitting—a necessary skill prior to the industrial

revolution—declined with the invention of machine knitting, increased during the “Knitting for Victory” campaign during WWII, had a huge boost as greater colors and styles of yarn were introduced after the war years (think twinsets), and then declined again in the 1980s as knitting was no longer

taught in schools and considered old-fashioned.

The 21st century resurgence is due in large part to the availability of natural and exotic fibers, and novelty yarns, which produce

dramatic results without years of experience. In addition, social networking websites connect knitting enthusiasts around the world, and may contribute to keeping the enthusiasm for knitting alive.

The next big thing: A Retro-Craft?

So, as we close out the first decade of the 21st century, it’s time to speculate what will be the next big craft? Several books have been published recently about lost crafts, featuring skills like candle- and soap-making, that were necessary for survival for most of history, but have become nothing more than boutique hobbies for the last century or more.

Three books, “ManCrafts” from Popular Mechanics, “The Prairie Girl’s Guide to Life” by Jennifer Worick, and “Lost Crafts” by Una McGovern, challenged me to try my hand at some lost crafts. I had many intriguing choices, such as coping saw carpentry, axe whittling, and fly tying. But others needed to be defined before I could even consider them, such as:

· pargeting (a decorative plasterwork on buildings, sometimes featuring extravagant sculptural reliefs)

· cob walling (wall building with a mixture of subsoil, water and straw)

· rushlights (a cheap candle made from rush pith dipped in melted animal fat)

· Sussex trugs (a shallow, oblong basket made from willow strips)

· tussie-mussies (a small posy of flowers and herbs)

Finding instructions and materials

Of course who’s to say when tatting, thatching, and wheelwrighting might come back into vogue? But I looked for crafts that might have some potential of resurgence—or, at the very least, ones that I could find instructions for on the internet. Since not only the crafts, but the materials needed to produce them are also “lost,” it would take quite a revolution to create a broom-making, wheat-weaving or pomander-making craze. But luckily a small number of vendors in the virtual world still carry broomcorn, long-stemmed wheat and orris root.

Wheat for wheat weaving:



Broomcorn for broom-making:



Orris root for orange pomander:



Pomanders, like potpourri, are used for perfuming the air and masking odors. From medieval times through the 17th century, aromatic substances were made into a ball, and carried or worn in a small perforated globe or box as a protection from diseases thought to be carried in foul-smelling air. Modern pomanders generally involve studding a citrus fruit with whole cloves. To make an orange pomander for your home you need:

Navel orange

Whole cloves

Wide rubber bands


1 T. Orris root powder

1 T. each Cinnamon, nutmeg and ground cloves

Paper bag


Put two rubber bands around the orange from top to bottom, dividing its surface into quarters. The rubber bands will help you make the clove pattern uniform and leave a path for the ribbons. Use the toothpick to poke holes into the orange in a pattern, and then place a clove in each hole, being careful to not break off the heads. When the entire orange is covered in cloves, cut off the rubberbands. Measure the spices and orris root into the paper bag, and then roll the orange around in the spices until evenly coated. Leave the orange in the bag and store in a cool, dry place until dried, about 3 to 6 weeks. Check the orange frequently, and discard if it shows any sign of mold. A finished pomander will feel light and sound hollow. Add ribbons to hang or display in a bowl.

A lesson in values

Blue is the color I love in a quilt
Originally published in the Santa Cruz Sentinel October 3, 2009

Main Entry: val·ue

Pronunciation: \ˈval-(ˌ)yü\

Function: noun

6 a : relative lightness or darkness of a color : luminosity b : the relation of one part in a picture to another with respect to lightness and darkness

7 : something (as a principle or quality) intrinsically valuable or desirable

From Merriam-Webster online

In a bookstore in Seattle this summer, I fell in love with a shade of blue. It’s not a turquoise blue, but it has a hint of green in it. It’s not a gray-blue, but it is pale and lovely. It’s the color of the sky on a clear autumn morning.

It was featured prominently in a book called “Patchwork Style” by Suzuko Koseki, with all kinds of quilting projects—mini bags for special occasions, potholders and aprons too nice to risk staining with spaghetti sauce, and of course, quilts. It was the blue in the quilts that made me buy the book and then search out fabrics on my way home from Seattle. I carried the book into fabric stores in Ashland and Arcata and held it up to bolts of fabric. When the right fabric was $9.95 a yard, I bought some anyway—I had to have that blue in my life.

Let me say from the outset that I am not a quilter. I don’t spend a lot of time thinking about color and color combinations the way a serious quilter would. But, of course, this sudden obsession with sky blue and how to make it a part of my everyday life, made me think more about the magic that real quilters perform on a daily basis.

I went to the Santa Cruz County Fair two weekends ago and spent an hour talking with several quilters who were demonstrating their talents. I asked them how they make decisions about colors in their quilts. Jenny Hibberd, who teaches quilting techniques, says a successful quilter thinks about values (the relative lightness or darkness of a color) when designing a quilt. “It doesn’t matter what the colors or the prints are, for the most part you’re looking at the values. You can have a fabulous quilt even with random fabrics.”

So, I learned, a quilt made with only sky blue fabrics wouldn’t sing at all. It would look flat and the pieced patterns would be lost without adding fabrics of contrasting value. It wasn’t just the blue I fell in love with—it was the blue in relation to other color values.

I noticed that a lot of the quilts I was attacted to in “Patchwork Style” combined sky blue with lots of white (a lighter value than sky blue), fire engine red (a darker value), and midnight blue (a much darker value). I was beginning to see how it was all coming together.

For some more thoughts on color, and since Open Studios ArtTour 2009 begins this weekend, I talked with a few artists who stand out for their use of color.

Mike Bailey, a watercolorist who paints ocean bluffs that look like radiant stained glass, says that, “Reds seem to draw me in more and more and more over time.” Like Jenny Hibberd, he admits that color may seem like the star of the show, but it’s the combination of colors and contrasting values that makes a painting work. “Value and composition do the work, but color gets the credit,” says Bailey, quoting a well-known painting maxim. He also allow his moods to dictate his palette. “I have spurts of brazon, crazy color, followed by six months of painting in more muted tones,” he says.

Photographer John Gavrilis captures the colors of the natural world with his large format camera and transparency film. The colors in his landscapes are not digitally enhanced, but so captivating and vibrant that viewers often question their veracity. “If you use digital photography and push colors beyond what’s real, you can’t call yourself a nature photographer,” he says. For Gavrilis, the test of his color combinations lies in their truth—they must mirror reality. His photographs demonstrate his love of low light and earthtones--the red-oranges of late afternoon sunlight bathing mountaintops or catching the crest of an ocean wave.

Beth Shields links her use of colors with her changing emotions. “Kind of like a lot of moods in life—sometimes you’re very centered and calm,” she says. At those time, she might paint with a neutral like buff. “Then there are times of more intense emotions,” more appropriate for painting with black and red. Although she was trained in the formal rules of traditional, representational art, when she creates her expressive, abstract works in oil, wax and graphite on canvas, she says her process is intuitive. “Because I work on instinct and emotion, I’m basically trying to bypass the logic portions of the brain. I have days when I’m so at peace with the world and I have days when I’m just the opposite. All these feelings are essential to my authentic self.” The truth of her colors lies in their ability to reflect that authentic self, in all its nuanced and disparate tones.

You can tell by Maggie Renner Hellmann’s exuberantly colored landscapes in oil, that she doesn’t have a favorite color. “I love them all, like a kid when you get the big box of 64 crayons. It give me so much joy just to see all the colors on my palette when I go to paint.” She associates her impressionistic, rainbow approach to painting with her innate sense of optimism. “I tend to be kind of a happy person.”

Making thoughtful color choices and combinations is probably second nature for these seasoned artists. But for the beginning quilter like me, I’m still carrying my sample book into the fabric store and wrestling with what works and why. If when I’m done I can say, “It gives me so much joy just to see all the colors in my quilt,” I’ll know I’ve succeeded.

Friday, September 25, 2009

A Sense of Place

How to restore a sense of place in your own community
Originally published in the Santa Cruz September 5, 2009.

“There is no there there.” Gertrude Stein

If you’ve ever taken a road trip with your family, you’ve undoubtedly had the experience of exiting from the highway and feeling like you’ve never left home. There will be a m
all, or housing development, or
row of fast-food restaurants that looks so very familiar. If you’re on vacation and you forgot to pack a swim suit, stumbling upon a Big 5, 1000 miles from home can be very opportune. But if you’ve convinced your blasé highschoolers in the backseat that Seattle is nothing like Santa Cruz, you may become disheartened when Trader Joe’s, Urban Outfitters, and Jamba Juice pop into view.

My family took a road trip this summer to Vancouver, Canada. Traveling up Highway 5 we spent a day exploring Portland, starting with the Best of Portland Walking Tour. Our excellent guide—Herb—showed us around downtown Portland, but also gave us a strong Sense of Place. Portlanders want you to know that their city is not just a random collection of buildings and streets, or a less-hip version of Seattle, but rather, a showpiece of ethical urban planning. Portlanders believe that their city’s design should, above all, reflect their collective ideals.

For example, they insist on streets that have long, clear views, without the clutter of signs or advertising. They support alternative forms of transportation with bike lanes, skateboard lanes, free downtown trains and streetcars, free electric car charging stations, and shared Zip Cars. And they’ve created numerous green spaces and parks, distributed throughout the downtown area.

Portlanders also seem to know, that A Sense of Place is strongly enhanced by the contributions of poets, novelists, historians artists and musician. I didn’t count, but reportedly saw 30 public art pieces (including the gargantuan copper statue, Portlandia) on the 2 1/2 hour walking tour. Oregon itself has had a Percent for Arts Program since 1975, where budgets for state buildings must include a portion for arts acquisitions that would enhanced or integrate with the structure.

“A thing is right when it tends to preserve the integrity, stability, and beauty of the biotic community. It is wrong when it tends otherwise.” Aldo Leopold

So now your thoughts should be coming back around to your own home town. Whether large or small, does your town have a strong identity and character that is deeply felt by local inhabitants and by many visitors? If a visitor got off the bus in downtown Soquel and took a guided walking tour, would she find a unique character there? Do you Corralitos-ites ever wear a t-shirt featuring a photo of your hometown when you travel? When someone unfamiliar with Santa Cruz County asks you where are you from, how do you describe Brookdale or Aptos or Watsonville or Scotts Valley? Do you simply describe it in relation to somewhere else—“It’s just south (or north) of Santa Cruz”?—and leave it at that?

“You can’t know who you are until you know where you are.” Wendell Berry

With the help of William R. Ferris, a former Chairman of the National Endowment for the Humanities, here is a list of things you can do to help create and preserve A Sense of Place in your own community.

First, we must view the arts as an essential means of preserving and celebrating American culture. Our writers, musicians and painters help us see ourselves clearly and honestly through their work. We need to support them in every way we can.

Second, we must commit ourselves to histor
ic preservation. One way is to become a collector of community artifacts. Start with photographs, newspaper and magazine articles, artworks and books that would give A Sense of Place to your grandchildren and future generations. On a larger scale, work to prevent old buildings from being demolished. Our buildings tell the story of who we are and we are connected to them.

Third, we must establish oral history projects. My 91-year-old neighbor died last December, taking with her an archive of remembrances about my town. She was a great storyteller with a crystal clear memory, and I missed my opportunity to tape some of our conversations about the old days and passed them on to others.

Fourth, we must seek the vision of a city planner. We should walk around our towns with a more discerning eye, to see if our values are truly reflected in our streets and buildings, parks and open spaces. Is our town special and unique? Does it foster a sense of human attachment and belonging?

Fifth, we must educate our students to recognize the uniqueness of their town, even as they are striving to separate themselves from it, and encourage them to become writers and designers, planners and volunteers, historians and teachers.

“To be rooted is perhaps the
most important but least understood need of the human soul.” Simone Weil

Developing A Sense of Place in your own community is not simply a public relations exercise. Places, memories and values are essential to life and should never be abandoned in the name of progress. They foster a sense of pride and connectedness that will create a domino effect of neighborliness, volunteerism and civic engagement. A community that knows who it is, will make sure that its values are reflected in its landscape, its teachings, and its commitment to its children.

Sidebar: If you haven’t yet visited the Sculpture Garden at Sierra Azul Nursery and Gardens, this is the time to go. Enjoy a great variety of colorful, large-scale pieces while strolling the paths of the beautifully landscaped ga
Over 100 works of outdoor sculpture and art, made from glass, ceramics, metal and unexpected materials, are integrated beautifully with the foliage. Sierra Azul Nursery is across the street from the county fairgrounds, at 2660 East Lake Avenue, in Watsonville. This must-see annual project of the Pajaro Valley Art Council continues through October 31.

Friday, July 3, 2009

King Tut returns to the de Young Museum

America loves Tut
Originally published July 4, 2009 in the Santa Cruz Sentinel

“Now if I'd known,
They'd line up just to see him,
I'd've taken all my money,
And bought me a museum”

1978, lyrics from “King Tut,” Steve Martin

In 1978, at age 23, I stood anxiously waiting in a long line outside the Los Angeles County Museum for my chance to see relics from King Tut’s tomb. It certainly wasn’t common in the 1970s for artifacts to generate concert-ticket-length queues, let alone record-breaking museum attendance. But King Tut was a cultural phenomenon like no other. From 1976-79, nearly eight million Americans viewed “The Treasurers of Tutankhamun” during sold-out tours at each museum it appeared—including the de Young in San Francisco. Passions ignited for all things Egyptian—especially the boy king himself—unleashing a consumer phenomenon that included jewelry, clothing, dance moves, songs and even hairstyles.

The American frenzy for ancient Egypt wasn’t unique to the 70s, however. In 1922, English archaeologist Howard Carter launched the first wave of Tutmania when he originally discovered the long-forgotten tomb of King Tut. For the next decade, photographs of the objects that emerged had a wide ranging influence on America, from product advertisements (cigarettes and soap), to automobiles (the Scarab), to Hollywood movies (“The Mummy”), to art and architecture (art deco).

Last week I avoided the long lines I experienced 30 years ago by attending the press preview of “Tutankhamun and the Golden Age of the Pharaohs” at the de Young Museum. I photographed the refreshment tables featuring pyramid-shaped vanilla yogurt on crackers, and cream cheese-stuffed dates looking very much like tiny coffins. I listened to various dignitaries, including the famed Egyptian scholar/explorer, Zahi Hawass, discuss the importance of the exhibit to San Francisco and Egypt, since proceeds from the exhibit will go not only to the museum, but also back to Egypt to further its efforts to excavate and preserve antiquities. (According to Hawass, Egypt never saw a dime from the 1970s U.S. tour.) And I lingered over each item in the exhibit itself.

Now that I’ve seen this amazing exhibit and done a bit of reading, I’d like to take a stab at answering that nagging questions, why is the West it so fascinated by the world of the pharaohs?

Unsolved Mysteries

It figures that a 19-year-old king who died in 1323 BC might leave behind a few unanswered questions such as: How did he die? Was he murdered? Who were his parents? Who were the fetuses buried with him? Modern technology may help to definitively uncover some of these mysteries through CT scans DNA testing.

You can take it with you

Ancient Egyptians believed that you can and should take it with you, so they buried royalty and those of high status in tombs packed with all the things they would need in the afterlife—both practical and beautiful. Essential for eternal survival and pleasure were items such as mummified meat, jars of wine, clothing, eye-paint, weapons, chariots, boats, etc. In young Tut’s case, his tomb also contained possessions he enjoyed during his lifetime such as a child’s chair and gameboards. Also included were funerary figures called shabtis, placed in the tomb to perform menial tasks for the tomb owner in the afterlife. And wrapped up with the mummy itself were amulets and charms—often made of gold or inlaid with semiprecious stones—to help protect the deceased on his journey to and existence in the afterlife.

Many pharaohs were buried in tombs in the Valley of the Kings—Tut’s being one of the smaller tombs probably because of his premature death. But what sets King Tut’s tomb apart from all the others is the fact that it was discovered intact with all its riches—virtually untouched by thieves. Tutankhamun died without an heir and the subsequent pharaohs, who, for whatever reason, wiped Tut’s name from the official record, inadvertently ensuring that his tomb would remain safe for centuries and his name would live forever.

The creepiness factor

“Oh Mister Tut they dig the tomb
All that gold leaf brightens up a room…
Your sarcophagus is glowing but your esophagus is showing
Who cares how rich you are love
When you look like Boris Karloff?”

1986, lyrics from “Dead Egyptian Blues,” Michael Smith

In America, mummies are the stuff of nightmares and horror films, usually brought back to life by some ancient spell. But to an ancient Egyptian, embalming and preserving the dead for the afterlife made perfect sense and was practiced as a very meticulous science. Each internal organ—the lungs, liver, stomach and intestines—had to be removed, dried and preserved in separate containers. The brain, which would hasten the process of decay if left in the body, was removed through the nose. The head was shaved and coated with a fatty material. The entire body was wrapped in layered strips of linen. (The penis was held perpendicular to the body as if erect.) Within the linen bandages that enveloped the mummy were about 150 objects, most of gold. What we might consider materialistic and creepy, the Egyptians considered essential to eternal well-being.

Pyramids and Papyrus

“All the old paintings on the tombs
They do the sand dance don’t you know”

1986, lyrics from “Walk Like an Egyptian,” The Bangles

Ancient Egyptian art is perhaps the most easily recognized art in the world. Smooth-sided pyramids of monstrous proportions; colorful paintings of buff men and women with faces in profile and liberally applied eye-liner; papyrus scrolls telling stories with columns of beautifully expressive picture-writing (hieroglyphics)—Egyptian art has a style and mystique that’s all its own and still resonates with us today, thousands of years later.

America’s passion for all things Egyptian will no doubt be ignited once again by “Tutankhamun and the Golden Age of the Pharaohs." I’m embarrassed to admit that 30 years after I first made contact with King Tut’s accoutrements, my most vivid memory is not of his treasurers, but of Larry Hagman (a.k.a. J. R. Ewing), discussing an exhibit display with a friend. Hopefully, the greater purpose of the exhibit and this cooperative exchange between countries will not be lost on me this time. As Sameh Shoukry, Ambassador of the Arab Republic of Egypt to the U.S. so eloquently described the big picture at the press preview: sharing the heritage of humanity, recognizing the commonality of our values, and breaking the stereotypes for those who would like to see more tranquility in the world.

What: Tutankhamun and the Golden Age of the Pharaohs

Where: de Young Museum, 50 Hagiwara Tea Garden Drive, Golden Gate Park, San Francisco
When: June 27 to March 28
Tickets: $15 to $32.50, depending on age, membership and days of week

Father's Day Gift Ideas

June is all about men

Originally published June 6, 2009 in the Santa Cruz Sentinel

June means Father’s Day—a day when deserving fathers are honored by their appreciative children, and maybe even their grateful wives. My own dad (whose 82nd birthday is also in June) and my husband (also born in June) may be like yours: they’re difficult to buy for and don’t really need very much. So how do I express my gratefulness in a special way (four times!) in June? While I’m pondering that question, here are some ideas that might help you celebrate the men in your life.

  1. Start with a card. Sometimes the very best gift is a card with a personalized, straight-from-the-heart message. My kids have made many cards over the years with nothing more than paper, scissors and glue, and I know they are treasured because my husband has kept them all.

  1. Consider his hobbies. What does your dad collect, or read about, or like to do in his spare time? My dad collects coins, so one year I made him a piggy bank in the likeness of his favorite superhero, Wonder Woman, using a balloon base, paper mache and paint. Likewise, my husband collects major league baseball jerseys—the kind that are “licensed.” So this year I asked my husband to tell me about his collection, and what makes a really great jersey, so that I could make him an “unlicensed” replica jersey of his own design. (Instructions provided below)

  1. Decorate something he uses often. Add an “I love you” his tool box. Or paint images of big fish on a new tackle box. Create and decorate a remote control holder or a drink caddie for his favorite arm chair, featuring his favorite TV character or quote. Knit or sew a golf club cover or iPod pouch. Floor mats, book bags, laptop cases are just yearning to be embellished.

  1. Try Petroglyph or The Crafter’s Studio in downtown Santa Cruz. You can paint ceramic bowls, mugs, or a keepsake box at Petroglyph—and it’s really fun. Or learn to sew a tie, a shirt or pajama pants for dad at The Crafter’s Studio.

  1. Remind him of all the things that make him special. Make a decoupaged keepsake box decorated with references to all this talents, hobbies, jobs, and sidelines—a lifetime of interests and pursuits.

  1. Be an historian. Write down questions and interview your dad about various aspects of his life such as growing up, serving in the military, school years, his jobs, his family life, his friends. Tape record all his reflections and anecdotes and then transcribe them to give as bound gifts in the future.

  1. How about a new wallet? Go online for instructions on making a wallet from paper, duct tape, plastic bags, cassette tapes, milk cartons, FedEx envelopes, or playing cards.

  1. Create a retreat. Maybe Dad really needs his own quiet space for internet surfing, writing, drawing or napping. Create an outdoor “room” in the backyard with privacy screens surrounding a hammock. Decorate the screens with pictures of sand, palm trees and umbrella drinks. Or, if you’re handy with power tools, build him his own little studio retreat.

  1. Make a movie with the camcorder. Dust off that camcorder or use your digital camera to make a film. We called ours “A Day Without Dad” and my daughters hammed up all the nightmarish scenarios they could come up with (such as eating unhealthy snacks while watching non-stop cartoons), while I did the filming. Put your movie on YouTube so he can watch it all the time.

  1. Personalize a button, a keychain or a t-shirt. Iron on a family photo with ink-jet printable fabric. Add a photo to a keychain or pin-on button. There are kits in craft stores for personalizing just about anything. Or make a frame and put a favorite photo inside. Google “What to make for Father’s Day” for a lots more craft ideas.
  2. Baseball Jersey: To make a personalized baseball jersey, surf the internet for a blank jersey in the right color and size. (I found my gray warp knit jersey at They may also sell you a blank shirt at a digitized embroidery shop—although, once there, you may be tempted to just let them do the whole job.) Buy a small piece of polyester knit or spandex for the letters and numbers. Trace around a letter/number template (purchased or computer printed from an enlarged font) with disappearing-ink fabric pen onto the knit fabric.

To keep the letters from stretching, iron-on medium-weight fusible interfacing to the back of the knit before cutting out each letter. Trace around each cut-out letter with disappearing ink for correct placement on the shirt. To keep the shirt fabric from stretching, add light-weight fusible interfacing to the inside of the shirt in the approximate location of the letters; then baste each letter in place on the outside of the shirt. Sew around the edges of each letter with a tight, wide zigzag stitch. Add matching trim from the notions department or use polyester shoe laces (I found great laces at the Converse Outlet in Gilroy.)