Specimen Display Shelf tutorial

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This cat is not on display.

Girl child has a love of collecting interesting and unusual natural objects and lately we've made a study of historical curio cabinets as found in Europe during the baroque period. Around the house there are several stashes of girl child's specimens, everything from beetles and skulls to rocks and the stitches that came out of her father's head after minor surgery.  Every once in a while, the girl needs a new shelf in which to display the interesting things she comes across (although none will be nearly as fancy as the baroque collections).

The need came up just this last holiday weekend when girl child found a particularly magnificent dead bumble bee.  In order to arrest, or at least slow, the bee's decomposition, a burial in rubbing alcohol was needed.  And then maybe, asked the girl, a place to display the bee in her glass coffin?

I'm not so good with the building with the wood but, inspired by Gordon Grice's book Cabinet of Curiosities, an excellent resource for the tween age crowd and their parents, I thought maybe I could handle a little bit of very basic cabinetry.  

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Of course the only thing open on the holiday weekend was the Dollar Store, so I get now to present to you:

How to make a small specimen display curio shelf using (mostly) dollar store items

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The (artist's) frame, vials, and rubbing alcohol were purchased on at the dollar store, to which I added balsa wood for shelves and wire as holder-on things (that's a technical term).  Additional needs are white (pva) glue, tacks or nails, and wood stain or acrylic paint (mine is craft gel stain).

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The frame and back itself is a complete piece purchased as artist's board in the craft aisle, turned to the backside.  Balsa wood, cut to the appropriate size to fit the purchased craft vials, is glued into place as the shelves.  I just want to make a note of how excellent it is to be able to cut balsa wood to size with a quilting ruler and small blade.  It's my kind of wood.

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When the glue is dry, sand down any exposed glue and rough parts of the shelf.  A coat of wood stain (follow directions on package) is easy to do but paint works well too.

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I happen to have quite a few shoe tacks about my place but any old small nails will do to use as a post to twist wire around.  Picture hanging kits in the dollar store have nails about the right size.  Place tacks or nails about a half inch above each shelf, a distance I scientifically determined to minimize the vial's ability to randomly fall off the shelf while maximizing the ability actually put the vial on the shelf.  (Scientifically determined, as in I held the wire up while boy child put in some vials and tipped the shelf around to see if any would fall off.)

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Leaving a bit of tack sticking out allows room fro the wire to be twisted on and secured.  On the back side of the shelf, pop in a couple tacks or nails and suspend a wire between them to be able to hang the shelf on the wall.

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That's the shelf!  Now for the fun bit: collecting specimens!

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We, as a rule, only collect specimens that are not alive.  Because we don't want to be jerks.  Beetles, spiders, flying insects and casings are favorites.  With these vials, we do have size considerations (although it is sort of amazing what a determined child with an aggravatingly large and fluffy bumble bee can do with a bit of patience and a pencil as a poker) and cork toppers are probably going to be replaced with a wax seal eventually. 

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Adding rubbing alcohol will keep specimens from decomposing for a few years but after that there is no guarantees. 

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Girl child has just a few vials filled on the shelf right now but by the end of summer she'll most likely be agitating for another.  There are quite a few wolf spiders in the basement that will be seeing the end of their natural life span by September.  It's lucky for the girl that I've made her a handy tutorial so she can make her own darn shelf next time.

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I am cruel to my children. I force them to share a room. It is a small room with a bunk bed, a dresser, a clothes rack and an itty bitty chair that the cat could sit on if it skipped breakfast.  The open spaces in the room are all up above head level, thus the top bunk of the bunk bed is ongoing contested territory.

Girl child lost the latest round of high level negotiations - boy child cried and she caved.  Upon taking up residency in the bottom bunk, she discovered the former tenant, her brother, had written a slanderous comment about her on the bottom of the top bed.  It was obviously written in a moment of passion, and I was impressed at his spelling, but the girl believed that she couldn't go to sleep under such conditions and decided to paint the slates more to her liking.

The bottom bunk now has a rainbow ceiling, which is quite lovely and cheerful.

Lovely and cheerful is exactly how I'd describe my girl child. Even when she is not.

Girl child is a writer by nature and I often find bits of stories, lyrics and poems left about the house.  Her stories are mostly adventures, featuring animal characters with heroic qualities.  Her poetry is decidedly less optimistic.  Here is a typical sample:

It is through her poetry that her inner nihilist speaks.

When I tell people that I have a gloomy girl, they look at her big smile while she roller skates by or performs on the stage, and they do not believe me.  Her interests include sports, theatre, reading and death positivity.  She wrote her first ever piece of fan mail to Caitlin Doughty of Ask a Mortician, after reading her memoir, Smoke Gets In Your Eyes.  She is in touch with her inner darkness.

It is sometimes said sardonically that you get exactly the child you deserve.  And sometimes when we clash, when she turns to me with her chin stuck out, cussing her defiance, I think, 'yes, that's me thirty years ago.'  But I also have a child who is unafraid of looking at life from all angles, the hope and the futility, the beginning through to the end, and embracing it all as normal and natural. 

She may seem like a contraction, from her rainbows to her skeletons, but she's more expansive than contrary.  Life with this child means picnics in the graveyard and cuddles while reading about Victorian funerary rites.  We take long walks through the woods, chatting while looking for animal bones.

 It is thrilling for me to have this brave spirit, this cheerfully gloomy person, in my life. 


Mother's Day: the catch 22

Our Mother's Day tradition is for The Man to take the childs away for a few hours while I get to do things that I would do if I didn't have children. 

The being without childs, of course, leads me to non-essential arty/crafty activities, where I stitch things that are, theoretically, for children*, the kind I am pretending I do not have.  There is no way for me to stitch these dolls for children with actual live children floating about me. I simply can not apply the intention to get the job done.

All the irony.

Since nobody is here to interrupt me, or save me from myself, I end up spending too much time hunched over a small object, squinting at small stitches, and I end up with a terrible crick in my neck, the likes I haven't experienced since my youngest was a toddler who refused to be put to sleep in any other way than being held and walk about for an hour.  Doll making may be a expression of post traumatic stress disorder?

I like to turn on Youtube for music and sometimes listen to podcasts, like the new horror mystery Alice Isn't Dead, because, although I crave it, I'm unaccustomed to quiet.  And I'm on episode three, when Alice is brutally finding out what the noise is that has been coming from the trailer and I realize I'm all alone, listening to a scary story, and- what's that noise in the basement?!  

Suddenly, the doll I'm stitching looks less merry and more sinister.  I worry about my inability to make playthings for children that aren't unsettling to small people.  Like the kind I have but am pretending I don't have as a treat to me.

I'm pretty sure the noise was the cats in the basement.  Which makes me feel guilty about the cat box down there I should probably clean.

This is me, two hours into separation from my offspring, when the switch flips from, 'I hope they don't come back soon,' to, 'goodness, where are those kids?  I need them here now.'

Perhaps I can get them to clean the cat box?


*Strange children.

Pictures of the dolls that children inspire:  http://dollyshoptheatre.tumblr.com/



sport vs craft

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In my head, there is this mythical place in the future when all my time constraints, conflicts and responsibilities are erased, and it's must me and my creative force, working together to make super fabulous things. And I never get crafter's block, it's just all productivity, all the time. I can even see my children volunteering to do the tedious tasks like run quilt seams or stuff dolls...


But now, in the real world, there is constant, sweet conflict. My loves are split between very different activities. Sports vs. crafts. They do not mix.  My roller insurance won't cover skating while knitting. 

Since I am involved in all the aspects of roller derby, not just a player (as we all are - it's a necessarily diy sport), I'm usually officiating or running some sort of administrative side while the girl child skates.  This past weekend was the first time I actually sat in the stands and watched the girl skate.  I could of hand stitched or knitted.  But then I couldn't clap (without harm).

One day that tension will be gone.  Age, injury - it's going to get me.  And I'll miss it, since our sports life and our crafting time are both highly valued.  The pull between these opposites make that time seem that more precious.

In the meanwhile, I think I'll take those very small areas where the two might possibly converge and exploit it.  Maybe I'll make a shirt that says, 'I'd rather be hitting people', to wear while sewing.  And a scrimmage shirt that says, 'you think I'm bad now, you should see me with scissors'.