Forget Alice in Wonderland

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I want to see Brendan and the Secret of Kells.

We've been holding our breath for the last many months, waiting for the release of Tim Burton's  Alice in Wonderland.  Our little Jacqueline Sparrow has been particularly excited about this movie as she is deeply in teen celeb crush with Johnny Depp.  (She does admit there's a small creepy factor in this big crush, as Johnny is older than her dad - but oh well.  Harrison Ford is the same age as my dad and he was pretty cute 'till he started looking like Grandpa.) 

Our family doesn't attend movies very often for lots of reasons;- we have to pre-view just about everything for violence before we can show it to Maxx, (this is a serious issue with him - we had to put Beauty and the Beast away for several months because of film inspired violence!) the theater is expensive and taking all 4 of us pretty much eats up an entire year's entertainment budget and we're so darn busy that actually scheduling a theater date and getting there on time is a challenge.  We generally just wait for stuff to come out on DVD.  But we've been planning on seeing Alice in the theater so that we can fully enjoy Burton's neo-gothic spin on the story and the juicy 3-D CGI animation.  And Johnny. 

Today, I discovered a film that I might just want to see MORE than Alice. (Thank you, Velma for calling this film to my atention!)

Brendan and the Secret of Kells has been available in Europe sine February '09 but it recently won several awards, including being a surprise pick for the Oscars and will now open March 12 in selected US cities and will .  It uses a combination of old style animation and CGI elements with the artwork being inspired by the Book Of Kells itself.  The story is about a young novice who must confront fear during a dangerous time to help complete the Book of Kells, the fairy girl who befriends him and the conflict between new and old, light and dark, enlightenment and fear.

I love the images and trailers I've seen from the film so far.  The ones here are borrowed from the film's website -  go have a look for yourself.  As much as I enjoy Pixar and other animated films relying on CGI to make a 'realistic' looking world, I miss the old style animation.  I have always loved Disney's Sleeping Beauty precisely because it did not look "real" but was beautiful in a way I often wish the real world could be. 

In his writing about his conversion to Christianity, C.S. Lewis spoke of "joy" as being the experience of desiring something beautiful and otherworldly.  Having the thing we desire may not necessarily make us any happier than the experience of desiring that thing does.  In fact, Lewis claimed that actually having the thing you desire presented to you often kills the joy of desiring it.  It is the dream or the wish or the longing that brings joy, partly because the anticipation of the desired thing induces us to try to be worthy of that thing which we desire.  Stark reality can be rather flat and uninspiring.  

Sometimes I feel that modern animators, in their excitement to play with making pictures that look real, have traded the joy of artistry for the titillation of tricks.   Instead of creating in a wonderful Dreamtime, they are trying to visually duplicate what we already have.  Instead of allowing dragons and monsters and gods to exist in another, more magical, reality, they have tried to make them more mundane and believable.  I'll admit that CGI is fancy.  It's got some wow factor.  Some of it is utterly sublime and too beautiful to be real.  But much of it feels trendy and uninspired.  Less than Joyful.  The Secret of Kells returns to the beauty and life force of old hand drawn animation plus it claims to be a film about enlightenment overcoming hatred.  That feels timely to me.  I'm looking forward to it.

(P.S.  The images here are all copyrighted.  I'm using them under "fair use" laws that allow bloggers and writers to use images in articles that discuss the work pictured but be aware that it is illegal to take images like these from films or from any other artists' work and use them to create other works of art or to print or otherwise reproduce them for sale.)

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Not a Snow Day

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When I was a kid, this would have been a snow day.   If the school Superintendent didn't make the right call on that, my mom would have kept us home anyway.  She would have made oatmeal for breakfast (with cinnamon and lots of sugar) and would have sent us outside to skate on the thaw pond or slide in the clearing.  She would have made hot cocoa when we came back in.


 Sadly, there's no good place to slide or skate nearby so I sent my kids to school today.  Meemo was much cooler than I am, I'm afraid.

My Grandpa Weston called this kind of snow "sugar snow" because he said that it makes the sap run.  Grandpa was a master syrup maker.  While I've had lots of good maple syrup in the last couple of decades, I've not found any that compares to his.  Maybe someday I'll build myself a sugar house and give it a try.

 I find myself wishing I had a pair of snowshoes and a good outdoor camera today.  It is pretty outside but also very wet and the Konica is the only camera that works.  That's my studio camera and it is such a baby that even the thought of humidity breaks it.  All of these photos are taken from inside the house, porch or woodshed - can't let it get dribbled or snowed on AT ALL.  We're pinching pennies to save for a Cannon Powershot for the family- they are small & portable, supposed to be waterproof, rugged and work in extreme temperatures but they are pricey.  It seems unreasonable to buy one on our current austerity budget until we have a day like this when I would like to go out and get pics of Maxx and Ziggy playing in the snow.

A couple more orders for custom velvet scarves would cover it!   I'll have to put an option for custom velvet luxury scarves in my shops.  They are a bit pricey but they make such wonderful gifts for a significant occasion and I am willing to barter.  The last two that I've made have been happy bartering deals.

Here are the promised pictures of the one I've been working on this week.  A very lucky young lady will be getting this tonight.  I'm loving it.

The purple is highly variegated and really simmers when it moves.  I started the beaded edging in a soft, sliver lined pink but that didn't feel dramatic enough to me.  The young woman this is intended for is classy, extremely talented, well mannered and has a lot of spunk.  She loves lime green.  I felt like the scarf needed a bit more playful drama to suit her personality and then I remembered these lime green window cuts.

I left the pink edging and gradually changed to some very pretty purple silver lined AB beads.  The dangles have the pink seed beads, a 4mm fire polished purple seed bead and a yummy lime green picasso lined window cut.  The fringe is a bit heavier than most of my fringes because the window cuts are quite substantial but the velvet itself is heavy and rich enough to carry it.  The windows also rattle or clatter a bit when the scarf is shaken, which I think is cool.  Interestingly, the combination of purple and lime green makes the pink beads look almost golden.

Yummy!  And the colors are wonderful for a late February birthday - rich and warm with the promise of a greening spring.

Time to go do that other edge!

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I Don't Know What Patterson is Thinking

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Most of the country is experiencing financial difficulty this year.  New York's situation seems to be exponentially worse because, apparently, we have relied heavily in the past on tax revenue from the big bonuses given out to the numbskulls on Wall Street.  (Really?  I'm having a hard time swallowing that story, actually.  I'd like to see the numbers and I suspect that our decrease in tax revenue has as much to do with large scale small job and revenue stream losses as it does with a bad bonus year or two on wall street.)

So Patterson has been making some cuts.  And he intends to make more cuts.  He plans to cut K-12 budgets by $1.4 Billion this year.  He proposes closing some of our state parks.  He proposes a further 6.5 million in cuts to NYSCA's budget.   All of those cuts = jobs lost.  Job losses = further decreases in tax revenue.

The cuts to State Parks and Arts spending also = lost tourism $$.   Decreased tourism spending = decreases in tax revenue.

If Albany thinks that teacher and para-professional income is small potatoes in the tax revenue department, they should examine the numbers a little better.  Almost 100% of my family's income is taxed.  We do get a tax return every year so our actual income tax is pretty low but we have very little money left over to save, so virtually all of our income goes back into the economy and (except for our groceries) is taxed.  Most teachers and school employees we know in this area are in a similar economic situation.  Those K-12 school employees who do earn a little more and are able to save significant money are often two income families who land solidly in the highest % paying tax brackets.

Education jobs = tax dollars coming right back into the state budget one way or another.  Putting these teachers and paraprofessionals on unemployment and/or welfare won't do much to help the state's budget picture.


Let's talk about the Arts.  The Executive budget proposes to cut NYSCA's budget down to $35.150 million for 2010.  NYCA's budget in 2009 was $41.6 million and that figure represents a cut from 2008 allocations.   The budget for NYSCA is only 1/300 of 1% of the overall state budget.

I don't think it makes sense to cut the arts any further.


Arts investments = jobs, significant tax revenue and lots of economic activity.

Last year, NYS spent $41.6 million on the arts.  50% of that investment went directly into jobs in the arts.  Another 12% paid for professional services (more jobs).  From that $14.6 million spent, $27.5 Billion went back into the economy.  $1.2 Billion was paid directly to the state as income tax, sales tax, business taxes and visitor spending taxes.

In essence, every One Dollar NYS spent on the arts last year resulted in $30.00 of tax revenue and OVER $6,000 pumped back into local economies.  (This means that an arts event or establishment gets money out of consumers' pockets and puts it back into local circulation through ticket sales, donations, purchases of art pieces or handcrafts in a gift shop, etc . . .  The numbers prove that if the state pays out a bit of seed money so that someone can get paid to make an arts event happen or guarantee the stability of a museum or other arts venue, consumers will come and spend money there - resulting in JOBS and TAX revenue.)   Why on earth would anyone cut back on an investment with that sort of return?

Most people, including our busy legislators, probably have no idea that the Arts generate such an impressive economic return.  I also think that many people assume that "the Arts" will happen whether or not people like Hilary and Suzy and me and Steven are paid to make it happen.  I'm here to tell you that it won't - or at least not at the level that folks have come to expect and enjoy.

Let's talk a bit about the realities of arts funding right here at home in St. Lawrence County.  The SLC Arts Council receives significant payroll support from NYSCA.  The gift shop and gallery, other granting programs and special events we hold bring in other sources of revenue which pay for rent, heat, lights, paper, ink, computers and printers, paper towels, art supplies, etc, etc . . .

While I LOVE my "paid day off" each week, there's no way I could justify regularly borrowing a vehicle and taking time away from my business and family once a week or more to coordinate the SLC Arts Council's class schedule on a volunteer basis right now.  No classes = no teacher checks for guys like Dave Ferry, who runs our wildly successful Comics Club or Sherri Chapman, who just taught two awesome PMC jewelry classes and is scheduling more for this summer.  That's money back in the economy right there, not to mention an enriching arts experience for community members.

If our Community Arts Grants Coordinator funding was cut, Suzy would have to look for another job.  She can't afford to volunteer, either.  It would be mighty hard to replace her and a multitude of programs would be at risk.  The Norwood Village Green Concert series got it's start and was supported for many, many years through the grant program Suzy now administers.  I believe that series has moved beyond our level of funding and is more self sufficient now, but our Community Arts Grant program currently supports dozens of new and developing arts programming in small communities all over St. Lawrence, Jefferson and Lewis counties.  Can you imagine summers in Norwood with an empty village green on Thursday nights?  I can't.  Can you imagine dozens of small scale arts programs all over the North Country all year long bringing the Arts close to home for rural residents and providing (taxable) income for local and visiting artists?  You can see info on some of these programs supported by Community Arts Grants on the SLC Arts Council's website

Without the funding to pay Steven's wages, our office and gallery would be pretty messy, our mailings wouldn't get out on time and we would get way behind in our filing, which would slow us down at critical moments.

And I won't even try to list all of the things Hilary does to bring the Arts to Upstate.  The SLC Arts Council wouldn't be as successful without her tireless service over the last decade.  I hate to imagine what we would do if she had to seek other employment.  Would she have time to bring artists together with BOCES to make the Visiting Artist Program more successful?  Not so much.  Those plans for a multi-arts center where people will learn to dance, sing, draw, paint, blow glass, make pottery & cook amazing food?  Ha!   That gift shop you like to visit and where over 250 local artists sell their work and learn how to market their wares outside of St. Lawrence County?  Gone.  Without an effective Executive Director, our arts council would not be able to provide all of the services we do and most of those services generate taxable revenue streams.

NYS is in a pinch.  I understand that.  I do not understand why we would choose to cut programs which do so much to enrich our state culturally, historically and financially.  Without the arts & without the tourism that the Arts and our State Parks encourage, we will be paupered on a number of levels.  Without good educators being paid a living wage, our children and our tax coffers will suffer.

You can visit these links to read more and make your voice heard regarding these budget cuts:

NYSUT website budget page

NYS Arts Alliance of NYS Arts Organizations

List of proposed closures to State Parks and Patterson's statement

To e-mail, write or call the gouverner's office directly on any of these issues:
Contact The Governor

Photos in this post were all taken in State Parks or at State Historical sites of interest.

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We've Been Gyped

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What a crummy vacation.  On one level, it has been very nice to be cooped up in the house together as a family, watching movies, playing games and just generally resting.  On the other hand - the weather has been beautiful and we haven't been able to go out and play in it, the Beorningstead is just sitting there waiting to get water and walls and countertops and appliances, Maxx has had a bad case of cabin fever and even the dog is bored.

Bryan has a terrible case of bronchitis.  He's on his 3rd round of antibiotics since sinus surgery in January and he feels miserable.  We've been married close to 20 years and I've never seen him as sick as he has been this winter. 

I have been mostly healthy since the beginning of the year but at some point after By's surgery, I scorched my face trying to get a big log into the woodstove.  My face was sore for a few days and then started getting better but that little event set off an eczema attack.  I suspect that after my health challenges this fall which included three rounds of antibiotics (Remember swine flu and that horrible ear infection from the 9th circle of hell?) my system, including my skin, has been lacking all of its normal healthy flora and that little scorching opened up some opportunities for a yeast or fungus or something that is causing a lot of aggravation around my eyes and forehead. 

Or it could be just lingering irritation.  I had a little patch of eczema behind my ear for two years after I dyed my hair black for Maxx.  It is February with a woodstove around here -a difficult circumstance for all kinds of skin.  With all of our stress around here, it;s no wonder my body& soul are shouting  "Enough!  Take care of you for a minute!"

I could go the the doctor.  She would give me steriods which would help for a while.  I don't want any steroids.  I don't want any more Big Pharma right now at all. 

I know, I may be being unreasonable.  I tried using a masque of yogurt (Stonyfield farms) and honey this afternoon - which felt divine and really calmed things down a lot.  After my shower, I mixed up a batch of skin cream consisting of shea butter, rose water & grapeseed oil with a few drops each of geranium, lemongrass, tee tree and eucalyptus oil mixed in.  There's some itching going on right now but not nearly as bad as this morning.  The shea butter is so soft and smooth and the essential oils & rose water are all good for sin inflammation and gentle antiseptic action.  I'll probably try another yogurt masque before bed.  Might even sleep with it on.

I'm looking forward to more peaceful skin and a healthier family next week.  In the meantime, I'm working on another glorious silk velvet beaded scarf.  I'll post photos next time.  In the meantime - enjoy another photo of Maxx in the tub.  He's so cute!  And smells good when clean.  :)

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Quiet Vacation

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It is turning out to be a very low key vacation.  We had expected to do tons of work over at the Beorningstead this week but Bry has been down with a cold for well over a week.  He took two days off work last week, missed two Sundays in a row at Church and has been just plain tired and sickly for a long time.  The kids have both got it, too.   I'm the only one not sickly.  That's a bit of a change.

My Umbrella Swift (aka Umbrella Fish - Maxx is great!) and all of my various yarns arrived last week.  They have been pre-washed are now drying.  I'm pondering color palettes and record keeping. 

I started out my dyeing career with keeping records.  I used to have a nice home made swatch book that had a 2 small squares of fabric - one cotton and one silk - for each dye color I had.  That fell apart years ago.  I don't even know where the swatches are anymore.  I don't usually dye for specific color outcomes.  My process is much more intuitive than that.  I've learned enough about how colors overlay and how they may or may not shift on silk as compared to cotton that I just throw things in a bucket and know that the result will be pleasing - or at least interesting. 

That will all change with this new line of threads.  I need to develop reliably reproduceable colorways and learn how to dye with procion on wool blends.  Wool is usually dyed with acid dyes but some of my wool has rayon or bamboo blended in and acid dyes won't touch the plant fibers at all so I have to use procion for those blends.  I also want my colorways to "translate" across the line of threads I've got so I'll hav eto be using the same dyes and colors.  I will have to do several swatch tests to learn how colors interact on the wool and wool blends before I jump in headfirst and dye up all this yarn.  I'm a little intimidated, but excited, too. 

This is a good thing.  On Thursday, Don Mandigo stopped into the Arts Council to do some Valentine's shopping for his wife and he asked if I was creating anything new.  We chatted for a minute and our conversation reminded me that one can't grow as an artist or a person if one is too comfortable, mucking about doing the same old thing all the time.  

Well, I won't be mucking about with the same old stuff all year this year!  I also got a shipment of acrylic felt to cover my print table with last week so I'm all set to play with breakdown printing , too.  I'll be setting up my printing screens for that when I prepare my first test batch of wool fibers. 

Gearing up for these two new processes feels a bit like jumping on the swing at my Grandmother's house.  The monkey swing swooped out over a big drop off where the driveway was.  If you planned your swing just right, you could swoop around the tree, spinning out over the driveway, swing back and wrap halfway around the tree on the way back, landing on your feet.  If you planed badly, you could slam against the tree or scrape bits of skin off your knees or elbows or fumble your landing and end up in the dirt.  

Sadly the tree and the house are gone now.  I took this photo on the last morning of the house - it was a very rainy and sad morning.

A Bad case of the Blahs

9:40 AM Edit This 2 Comments »
Well, what do we expect?  It is February, after all.  Winter has been here a long time and will be here for about 8 more weeks - if we're lucky. 

The weather has warmed up a bit but has been pretty uninspiring - overcast, occasional light flurries, temperature hovering between 10 and 20 degrees F. 

No dazzling displays of sunshine on freshly fallen snow. 

No awe-inspiring blizzards, no soul awakening thaw, no snow days off from school, no starry crystalline nights.

Just winter. 

Just old snow and road dirt. 

Just an intimidatingly large woodpile.  (Which I will admit, is much better than an intimidatingly small woodpile in February.) 

To soon to start Tomatoes.  Too late to work on Valentine projects.

At least I've got some Rackham.  I found this lovely book Once Upon a Time; The Fairy Tale World of Arthur Rackham at the downtown Potsdam "branch" of the Birchbark bookshop above White's Hardware. It was significantly less that some Amazon sellers are offering it at (10 bucks!!) is in perfect vintage condition and it is full of lovely full page illustrations of many of his less well known titles.  If you are suffering a bad case of the blahs, I suggest you go spend an hour or so at one of the Birchbark locations or a used book seller near you.  Take your time, get lost in the shelves.  You're not missing much outside right now.

Now I think I will build the fire (again) and then go upstairs to build some jewelry.  Maxx has a friend coming after school today so I'll do housework downstairs when they get home - maybe - and work in my studio today.  I cleaned it last week and moved all of my dyeing bins and materials downstairs.  Now I can actually move around upstairs!

Being upstairs will help me stay out of the kitchen, too.  I backslid a bit the last two weeks.  PMS + cabin fever + sick hubby + lousy weather = difficulty making good food choices.  I gained back a pound of the 4 I had lost over January.  But my inches continue to go down.  I'm not formally exercising right now, but with Bry out of commission and MB back in school, I'm hauling a lot more wood around. That counts for a few extra burned calories and some weight work, too.

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100 Faces of Maxx

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100 Day is this week at Maxx's school and Maxx had to make a 100's day project consisting of a collection of 100 things. 

Maxx is a particularly wishy washy child.  He can't make a clear decision and communicate about it to save his life.  He wanted 100 soldiers, 100 dinosaurs, 100 swords, 100 beads - he changed his mind every day at least once and every other choice would have been disallowed by the school's 0 tolerance policy towards violence (no toy soldiers unless you cut off their guns, no swords, etc . . . )

The other day Molly suggested that we make a book of 100 faces of Maxx.  "Ya, right, I said.  Can he even make 100 faces for the camera?"  But before I could finish my sentence, he had pulled at least 30 amazingly distinct and hysterical funny faces. 

The boy is a ham. 

The problem with this project was not in getting faces but catching them quickly enough.  He's got a great face - surprisingly elastic and sooooo cute.  I think we'll need at least 100 more.

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Gearing Up

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I just bought an Umbrella Swift.  I know - pretty strange, right?

Maybe not.  I recently ordered some silk and silk blend yarns and threads from Aurora silk and Dharma Trading Company.  I plan to start a line of silk, wool and cotton embroidery threads.  I'm really enjoying my adventures in Crazy quilting but I hate the fact that I can't easily get my hands on really great threads without breaking my hobby budget.  I dyed some DMC cotton pearle about a year ago and I liked the result but I'm ready to play with some new textures and it feels like a good time to experiment with a new, but related, product line. 

The first package of silk threads arrived last night.   Oooooohh!   They are so soft, so shiny, so perfectly wonderful!  They are also impossibly slippy and full of static.  Silk has an electrical charge which makes it particularly susceptible to static cling - that is part of the magic in a silk dress, the fabric has a life of its own as it simultaneously clings and flows around the body.   Last week, my friend Suzy showed some impressively tidy and tiny weaving she had done with sewing weight silk thread.  She had a great deal of trouble with her thread while preparing her project and now has a leftover mass of tangled silk thread - thanks to slippery, staticy silk.  She was told this weekend that she needed an umbrella swift to avoid the problem in the future.

Those of you who work with fiber are nodding your heads knowingly. 

An umbrella swift is a curious contraption that expands to fit the width of you skein of thread or yarn and spins as you pull yarn off to load your warping board, fill your shuttle bobbin, make a ball to stow in your knitting bag or, in my case, make smaller skeins for dyeing.  I was going to try to do without one, making my ids or my husband hold the skein apart for me, but I found a Lacis umbrella swift for under $40.00 online today. 

It is on its way and will probably arrive just in time for me to start experimenting with new colorways.  Yay!

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A New Advertising Experiment

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I decided that this week, I would run an ad over at ArtFire highlighting my Alchemy scarves.  I have 6 of them in my shop right now but not a lot of views.  I'm running an ad on the Accessory Main category page which you can see here:

The ad went live February 2nd at 12:01 am.  I chose the accessory main category page because I figured it would get more traffic than the Accessory - Scarves page.  As of right now, the ad has 180 views but no clicks.

Please go take a look and let me know how the ad strikes you.  The text is a bit small but I think the background image is yummy.

Finding Jewelry Tools

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More and more lately, I have people ask me to punch a hole in the brass charms they buy from me or ask me how they can punch their own holes in charms they get from my shop and others.  I can easily punch holes in my brass charms because I have a nifty hole punching tool.  If people want to buy their own nifty hole punching tool, I always send them over to matsbeads on Etsy.   

m.a.t.'s beads is a real life bead shop in Vestal, NY that also operates a respectable Etsy shop.  I've never shopped there but they have an Excellent feedback rating and I've been browsing their tools and cord inventory a lot lately.  Most of the tools I need, I can get for a little less money, considering the high volume orders that I place from my bead suppliers, many of whom also sell tools.  But matsbeads' prices are great for someone who doesn't want to order $300 worth of beads to get a slightly better price on a tool or who isn't eligible for a wholesale account because they don't have a tax ID yet.  They also have a respectable selection of tools, including the hole punch, metal stamps, pliers, wire working gizmos, mandrels, kumihimo plates,anvils and hammers, etc . . . 

And their selection of beading cord is excellent - lots of colors, types and thicknesses.  Everything from natural silk thread for pearl stringing to Nymo and C-Lon for beadwork to thicker C-Lon for macrame or kumihimo.  Not to mention a pretty respectable selection of firepolished czech glass beads, some very interesting metal spacer and accent beads and some ceramic tools. 

Nifty stuff.  If you need some tools or cord, go check them out!

Oh - and if you need tiny dragonflies, little scarabs or rosy rose links in either plain brass, patina or glorious enamel colors, stop over at one of the  Goblins' Markets.  I just got a new shipment of these supplies in yesterday.  Yay!

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Mimi Kirchner's Dolls

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I discovered Mimi Kirchner's dolls through another blog that I follow.  I love her work. 

Maxx wants one of these amazing tatooed man dolls but with a price tag in the hundreds, and considering that both of his Pocket Monkeys were discovered mangled in the sandbox last summer, I don't think that will be happening soon. 

They are impressive and you have to admit - using skin tone dyed toille for a tatooed torso is incredibly clever. 

She has tatooed ladies, too.  And kittens and patterns and teacup pincushions in her Etsy shop.

This blonde guy looks like he is related to my brother-in-law, Rich.

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