Zinnia and the Bees!

Zinnia and the Bees

I’m not a knitter. Nor a crocheter (besides some basics, which I learned just last winter). But the charming middle-grade novel Zinnia and the Bees by Danielle Davis made me want to be both. Zinnia is a seventh-grade yarn bomber intent on putting an “exuberant sweater on the whole world.”

Yarn Bomb

But when her yarn habit gets her into trouble, she finds that her beloved older brother and frequent accomplice has gone MIA. And her mother, Philomena Flossdrop, D.D.S., seems more devoted to dental hygiene and do-gooder community activism than to Zinnia.

Yarn Bomb 3

Things unravel further when a swarm of runaway bees take up residence in the messy nest of curls atop Z’s head. She manages to disguise her beehive from most eyes but a boy named Birch takes notice. The story tangles and twists in unexpected ways before Zinnia, with a little help from her friends, comes to a new understanding of hive and home.

Yarn Bomb 2

(By the way, these magical, sweater-clad trees can be found in a grove along the Minuteman Bikeway in Arlington, Massachusetts thanks to a community art project and a gaggle of nimble makers known at the Arlington Knitters Brigade (which includes a few of my friends–you know who you are, Jennifer and Janet–and Holly!)

Penny & Jelly and a Star-Powered Craft!

Your friend is not invited to the sleepover. But you are. What do you do?

In Penny & Jelly Slumber Under the Stars, Penny faces this dilemma, with a twist or two. The excluded friend isn’t just an ordinary pal but her fur-faced, dog-breathed bestie, Jelly. And the sleepover isn’t the any-old variety, either. It’s a special sleep-under-the-stars event at the Town Community Center.

Penny and Jelly Slumber Under the Stars

Penny meets this problem with aplomb. As a maker and dabbler myself, I love how Penny sets about finding a solution. The girl gets crafty!

Armed with yarn, cotton balls, recyclables, shaving cream, even gelatin, Penny attempts to create a substitute Jelly to attend the sleepover instead.

Penny & Jelly Slumber Under the Stars

(A close-up of the classic toothpick-and-marshmallow combo:)

Marshmallow Jelly

OK, as you’ve probably guessed, Penny learns that craft projects don’t fix all of life’s problems. (She does find a creative solution. But I’m not giving it away.)

Nonetheless, the story inspired me to get crafty. Why not throw a starry sleepover for a couple of wacky, resourceful kids that I know and celebrate the publication of the second Penny & Jelly adventure (written by Maria Gianferrari and illustrated in warm washes by Thyra Heder)?


We don’t see a lot of stars in the city so we chose to make our own. Here’s how:

You will need a standard size flashlight, 1/4″ hole punch (we used a star-shaped punch), black construction paper, scissors, white pencil, and masking tape.

Step 1: On the black paper, trace circles that will cover the lens of the flashlight.


Step 2: Sketch your starry designs. Simple constellation patterns are readily available online for inspiration–or for tracing.


Step 3: Cut out your circles and punch holes for each star in your pattern.


Step 4: You can either inset your star discs (which involves unscrewing the head of the flashlight, removing several parts, and then replacing everything–whew! involved)–or you can overlay the star disc on the lens. You may need to use masking tape to keep it in place while projecting.


Step 5: Pop some corn, set up the sleeping bags, and project the starry night onto your ceiling!


Boston-area residents: Bring your young book enthusiasts to the Penny & Jelly Slumber Under the Stars Book Launch at Newtonville Books on July 24 at 2 p.m.

And check out all of these stops on the the official Penny & Jelly blog tour:

Extra feature:


Places: Treasures & Trash

My friend Mary is a veteran treasure hunter and estate sale scout. She looks for places that are lived-in, worn-at-the-edges, abundant–in other words, houses with a lot of stuff in the basement. Mary loves discoveries of ephemera best: bits of ribbon, rolls of old wallpaper, kitschy greeting cards, and she’s willing to whisk through the contents of desk drawers and dig through musty closets for a great find.

Last weekend, Mary invited me to a sale held at a former convent of Armenian nuns, which before that was the many-roomed replica manor home of a wealthy family. The place is now marked for demolition. It was one of those places layered in stories: the third floor narrow hall with rooms in the eaves for servants, a grand sun room darkened by the nuns into a makeshift chapel, a wing painted in ice cream pastels for orphaned children. I didn’t pick up much–a plate, a stitched scene (of Armenia?)–but I marveled at the crackled linoleum, the porcelain door knobs, the notebook filled with needlepoint patterns, Xs in squares, the pencil still tucked in the page.

Quilts and Color Exhibit at Boston MFA


Boston MFA Quilts and Color

Carpenter’s Wheel Quilt, attributed to Mrs. Miller, Mennonite, Easton, Pennsylvania, about 1890

The quilts displayed at the Quilts and Color: The Pilgrim/Roy Collection now at the Boston MFA are not for those who prefer a palette muted and restrained. While my kids were wolfing Fenway franks at the ballgame this past weekend (Go Sox!), my mom and I snuck off to to take a peek. These are not your grandmother’s quilts–or are they? In room after room, we encountered vibrating, dizzying color in bold patterns that are amazingly modern considering that their mostly Mennonite and Amish makers lived in the 19th and early 20th century.

Sunburst Quilt

Sunburst Quilt, Mrs. Ephraim Scott, American, 1856

Trained as artists, Gerald Roy and Paul Pilgrim collected quilts reminiscent of modern abstract art. They noted that the quilters displayed an intrinsic color sense, experimenting with saturated hues and color effects. In each room of the exhibit are paintings by Abstract Expressionists and Op Artists, highlighting the affinity between the quilts and the twentieth-century art.

An exquisite painting by color theorist Josef Albers at the Quilts and Color Exhibit

An exquisite painting by color theorist Josef Albers at the Quilts and Color Exhibit


The exhibit runs through July 27, 2014.




Jessica Brilli at Salvage

2013-10-07 16.02.57

I’m not sure how the very hip store, Salvage, found its way to my neighborhood (a happy one, but not particularly hip). Nevertheless, we are blessed with a store front full of mid-century teak and things the shape of kidney beans. I like to go in and gawk at the old-timey artifacts of my (recent?) past–cameras, typewriters, telephones with curly cords.

paintings, peconic

Last time, I wandered in, I found these Jessica Brilli paintings on display. She likes the old stuff, too.

I’d love to buy a Brilli–or a whole pod of them (a gaggle? a flock? what’s the word for a horde of paintings?). I’m short on cash but maybe we could make a trade.  Jessica, how about I’ll paint triangles on your staircase in exchange for the typewriter on red?

paintings, untitled

paintings, bicycle