Archive | October 2013

Sweet Dreams: Photography by Queenie Liao


Thanks to **Khayla** and **Clare** for both sending me a link to these adorable images. What an imagination! Here’s what had to say about the project:

Do babies dream when they sleep, or they simply rest peacefully? Queenie Liao, a free-lance artist and mother of three boys living in California, has tried to answer this question by sharing the adventurous dramas that her child Wengenn dreams of during his sleep.

Combining artistry and imagination with photography, Queenie has created captivating photos using plain cloths, stuffed animals, and other common household materials to create the background setting.

Her album – Wengenn in Wonderland – is a compilation of over 100 creative photos that depict the continuous exploration of her son Wengenn in his magical land of charm and wonder. She drew inspiration from other creative mommas like Adele Enersen and Anne Geddes but gave the images her own imaginative fairytale twist.

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Seth Godin Repost & Response: Our crystal palace

Expand Your Comfort Zone

Our crystal palace from Seth Godin’s blog

Thanks to technology, (relative) peace and historic levels of prosperity, we’ve turned our culture into a crystal palace, a gleaming edifice that needs to be perfected and polished more than it is appreciated.

We waste our days whining over slight imperfections (the nuts in first class aren’t warm, the subway isn’t cool enough, the vaccine leaves a bump on our arm for two hours) instead of seeing the modern miracles all around us. That last thing that went horribly wrong, that ruined everything, that led to a spat or tears or reciminations–if you put it on a t-shirt and wore it in public, how would it feel? “My iPhone died in the middle of the 8th inning because my wife didn’t charge it and I couldn’t take a picture of the home run from our box seats!”

Worse, we’re losing our ability to engage with situations that might not have outcomes shiny enough or risk-free enough to belong in the palace. By insulating ourselves from perceived risk, from people and places that might not like us, appreciate us or guarantee us a smooth ride, we spend our day in a prison we’ve built for ourself.

Shiny, but hardly nurturing.

So, we ban things from airplanes not because they are dangerous, but because they frighten us. We avoid writing, or sales calls, or inventing or performing or engaging not because we can’t do it, but because it might not work. We don’t interact with strange ideas, new cuisines or people who share different values because those interactions might make us uncomfortable…

Funny looking tomatoes, people who don’t look like us, interactions where we might not get a yes…

Growth is messy and dangerous. Life is messy and dangerous. When we insist on a guarantee, an ever-increasing standard in everything we measure and a Hollywood ending, we get none of those.


I read the above today and it really hit home with me. Living in a place that constantly challenges me and makes me expand my comfort zone (even when I’d rather curl up in bed and watch a movie) is at the very essence of the Peace Corps experience.

When I imagine moving back to the United States (I can’t believe we only have a little over 2 months left!) it all seems so…easy. Or maybe I mean comfortable or maybe I mean expected. However I articulate it, the idea has been swirling around in my mind a lot lately.

As much as I complain that I miss Thai food or dependable hot water or the NYC subway (yes, I miss that behemouth of public transit) the truth is, I know that when we do go back to the States I will miss the daily challenges here in Ecuador that have stretched me outside of my old comfort zones.

A few years ago I went to Cape Town, South Africa to participate in the Lucca Leadership Course there. The course I took was modeled after several different trainings and focused on transformational leadership. The entire experience was a test in getting out of my comfort zone as the only participant from the Americas, the only Spanish-speaker and also one of a minority of white participants. And, I’m happy to say, it was one of the most incredible experiences of my life.

Our days were filled with a mix of discussions, participatory leadership games, team-building activities, and shared meals. One of the sessions specifically dealt with comfort zones and the main idea has always stuck with me.

Imagine you are standing in a field and there is a circle drawn around you. That circle, however big or small, is your current comfort zone. Walk to the edge of that circle. Step outside of it and there appears another concentric circle, the edge of which now represents your comfort zone. Walk beyond that circle and another appears and so on and so forth. Every time you stretch yourself, your comfort zone grows bigger and bigger but the challenge never stops. You don’t pass your first limit and rest on your laurels. You keep expanding and learning and growing.

This is all food for thought as Paul and I decide where we want to be after the baby is born. Maybe we’ll play it safe and stick around our current comfort zone. My hunch is, we’ll find another adventure and expand our circle even more. Time will tell!

I Heart Wes Anderson

If You Print It They Will Come

Here is a blog post I recently wrote for our Natural Resources Conservation Program Blog to explain to other volunteers how to create a map of their community for tourism purposes.

Enjoy! Mari

Palmar Tourism Map

Okay, so a throng of excited tourists is not going to show up in your town just because you printed a tourism map but it can’t hurt! We recently went through the process of planning, designing, funding, and printing a tourism map of Palmar, Ecuador (see above) and we thought we would share how we accomplished this.

The folks at Fundación Neo Juventud and the Palmar Tourism Commmittee approached us at the Centro de Arte y Diseño. They wanted to collaborate on a project that would help the local community-based tourism effort as well as provide marketable skills and productive activities to the Foundation’s youth.

Hence, the idea for the map (and the website: was born. Paul and I chose 8 promising students from the youth foundation and who were already participating in the art center classes to be interns that would learn how to create a website and map and then would teach their peers similar design projects in the future. In the end, 5 stuck with it (we expected as much) and through a generous grant from Starbucks and the International Youth Foundation, we were able to pay them stipends during their training as well as when they completed the final projects.

Map Ads Up Close

Step 1: Speaking with Stakeholders

We were lucky in that the president of Fundación Neo Juventud is also the head of the Tourism Committee so it was relatively easy to coordinate between those two groups. We met with people from the Comuna as well as other members of the Tourism Committee and dueños of local businesses to see if there really was interest in the map. Although we had some funds from the grant to print the map and host the website, we solicited sponsorship from local businesses who would receive an ad in the map (see above), printed copies, and dedicated space on with photos and details about their business. We felt it was important to get buy-in, especially if more maps need to be printed in the future.

Businesses pitched in from $10 – $40 and printing 1,000 copies of the A4 map tri-fold cost $140 at a printer in Quito while site hosting from costs from free – $36 per year depending on the speed you choose. That’s right – there is a free option but it is slow. The domain name costs from $10 – $14 per year from We were thrilled that businesses were more than happy to pay for this new service and walking around with the interns and other stakeholders to secure the sponsorship and take photos of businesses built excitement about the final product.

Step 2: Mapping the Community

This is easier said than done, especially in communities that don’t show up on Google Maps and that don’t have any street signs, like Palmar. The first time we realized that our neighbors had no idea what a map of their own town looked like was when we did a palm tree reforestation project. I created a very simple map of the main areas where we would be planting the palm trees and showed it to those involved. They couldn’t locate their houses on the map because they had never seen a map of the town. It was an eye-opening experience.

So, we turned to the internet to see if there were any tools out there to help us in our predicament. We found: where you can search for satellite images of your local area and then use the site’s tools to draw in roads and paths as well as indicate parks and other landmarks.

We started with the file (save as a PDF if you want to be able to edit in a program like Adobe Illustrator) and then we walked around the town with the interns to confirm which were the most important streets, paths, and landmarks to include on the map. Since we were also interested in creating a digital map for the website, we found the site:

Go to:, search your location and you will find that the work you did adding streets in (after it updates) will automatically show up. You can make an interactive version of your map to put on websites and you can make it prettier with their design tools. A flat version of our interactive map is shown above.


Step 3: Designing the Printed Map

We used Adobe Illustrator to draw the map including the landmarks and participating businesses we wanted to showcase. We oriented the map a little differently than the online, interactive version. You will have to decide what works for you. The interns used source images of important landmarks and then drew on top of them with Illustrator’s various drawing tools. We applied the watercolor effect after everything was drawn.

This may seem very complicated and I assume that not everyone has access to Adobe Creative Suite, so I’m including an amazing resource that does basically the same thing (for the streets but not for the landmarks) called Stamen. The Stamen Map Site is free to use and integrates with and Google Maps. Search your location and the site will automatically make your map look like a watercolor map (wish I had found this before we did all the work by hand!). They also have a “terrain” and a “toner” version that applies different stylish filters to the map kind of like Instagram (see above).

If you want to draw but don’t have any design programs at your disposal. Check out this article of 10 Free, Open Source Alternatives to Photoshop. We found the easiest way to teach how to digitally draw was to have students use photographs and draw the basic shapes of the buildings on top of the images in the design program. Then, delete the source image and you have a pretty good digital drawing of the building. Play around with brushes, thickness of lines, and transparency of color to make it look like it’s watercolor.

Palmar Map Banner

Step 4: Finishing Up

After printing the 1,000 maps and finishing, we ended up having a bit of extra money left over in the grant. So, we consulted with our partners and together we decided to print a large banner of the map with the key. This printed banner is on durable, anti-fade, water resistant material and cost about $40 at a local printer to make. Ask the printer first how they would like the file – we sent it as an Adobe Illustrator file but you can also use JPEG and PDF. The bigger the image, the better the quality for printing.

The official “inauguration” of and the printed tourism map is scheduled for later this month with the interns presenting their final projects to the Comuna, Neo Juventud, and the Tourism Committee. We couldn’t be prouder of how the project turned out and we hope that some of these resources help you to create your very own tourism map.

Stay Creative

DIY Project: Cloud Mobile, Part III

Hot Air Balloon

Hot Air Balloon

As I was searching for inspiration to make the cloud mobile – I came across this hot air balloon tutorial on How Joyful. Joy offers a step-by-step tutorial and beautifully detailed images for how to make your own. No sense in reinventing the wheel, especially one that is so well made, so visit her site for proper directions. As she did, I sewed mine by hand and in the end I didn’t mind seeing the black thread but you can choose to hide the stitches or use matching thread.

Hot Air Balloon

I decided just to do one hot air balloon (Joy does several and only a few clouds) because I had already made so many clouds. The basket I made from candy wrappers – you can find my tutorial for how to fold and connect the pieces here. To make it a basket shape just make two small circles, sew them together and then sew the bottom together – fitting the pieces together like a set of teeth.

Hot Air Balloon Basket

Wrapping the Structure

Ribbon Wrapped Wooden Ring

I had some extra  wooden embroidery hoops lying around so I decided to use those as my hanging structure. You can use sticks, dowels from a craft or hardware store, silver rings, or I’ve even seen folks use hangers. I didn’t have any of those other materials so I used the embroidery hoops. I could have left them unfinished but the wood was a little rough so I decided to wrap them in ribbon. I chose yellow to mimic the color of the sun and finished them with a spot of hot glue.

Finding the Balance


This is the tricky part. Some crafters use fishing line to connect the different pieces of the mobile but I was having a hard time making the whole thing balance out. I decided to use thin white ribbon instead and it made things a lot easier. Maybe the objects won’t look like they are floating as much but I figure baby won’t complain!

To strike the right balance between all of the objects I had to hang, I first put everything together tentatively using electrical tape. The tape won’t leave any marks on the felt or ribbon and can be removed easily as you adjust the balance of items.

I used one large embroidery hoop as the main structural component and then added two smaller ones more or less evenly distributed across the hoop. Those two hoops hold the rest of the items directly. I balanced the items on one small hoop at a time. Paul held the mobile up as I adjusted – accounting for the space between objects, weight of the objects, and the length of ribbon. These are the variables you have to make it balance. Once I found a good balance I used the tape to secure it in place.

Once I knew how long and where the securing ribbons should be, I took off the tape and then sewed them to the hoops by hand. You can also see that I used a button to hide the stitches I made to secure the white ribbon to the cloud.

Putting it all Together

Finished Product

Here is what the finished product looks like all put together. I used thicker ribbon on the very top, which will be how I tie the whole thing to the ceiling once we have a home with a nursery.

DIY Project: Cloud Mobile, Part II

Rainbow Cloud & Silver Lining

Sequins Close Up

I bought pre-strung sequins that I learned to sew on to the fabric from the “How Did You Make This” blog. I made one cloud with just a silver lining and the one above with a ribbon rainbow and a silver lining. Don’t forget to pin your ribbon inside of your cloud first before sewing on the sequins. I pinned the ribbons to one side of the felt and hand stitched them to keep them in place. My local craft store didn’t have the same thickness of ribbon in the colors I wanted so, combined with some ribbon I had at home, I chose to make the rainbow from different thickness of ribbons. My rule in almost any of my creative work – design, craft,  lo que sea is to either make everything uniform or make everything diverse. For example. I’d prefer to have a variety of ribbon sizes to having all colors the same size but one.


Ribbon and Bead Raindrops


I haven’t seen another cloud mobile with raindrops quite like this but as they say, necessity is the mother of invention. I found the big plastic blue beads at my local craft store and tried to use them with nylon/fishing line and then with thinner white ribbon but the raindrops kept falling (on my head). I had some of this thicker white grosgrain ribbon around so I tried with that and I liked how they turned out. I used hot glue to make a nice edge on the bottom and to make sure the ribbon wouldn’t fray. I hand stitched around the cloud with a contrasting dark blue embroidery floss. The beads are not glued – they can be moved up and down the ribbons.

Raindrops Close Up

Felt Raindrops

Big Raindrops

This style of felt raindrops is much more common if you search examples of cloud mobiles. I varied my string length and felt color to make it more interesting. I used the blanket embroidery stitch, which I think is more successful than my finishing on the bead raindrop cloud. Each felt raindrop is stuffed with a bit of batting, too. Make sure that there is some balance in the weights and size of each raindrop – this will help when you are hanging the clouds later. It’s all about balance when you’re putting everything together.

Big Raindrops Close Up

Blanket Stitch

Next up: Adding a hot air balloon and putting it all together!

DIY Project: Cloud Mobile, Part I

Cut Out Cloud Templates

Make Template

I drew these clouds freehand and cut them out of a cardboard cake box we had in the recycle bin. You can search the web for inspiration or go over to Pinterest like I did to see what other crafty people have done. I noticed many of the cloud mobiles looked alike so from the start I thought of ways to make mine unique. The first way is in mixing a more rounded cloud shape with an asymmetrical, flat-bottomed cloud shape.

Pin Templates to Felt

Pin Template to Felt

I pinned the templates onto a double layer of felt. This way, I only needed to make one cut to make two identical sides to each cloud. Some folks prefer to outline the template in marker or chalk and then cut but for me, it’s just easier to pin the template on and cut around it. It’s one less step and doesn’t make any marks on the felt.

Cut Both Sides Together

Sew Around Cloud Edge

Stuff Your Cloud

I used a sewing machine to sew a little more than halfway around the cloud edge. I wanted plenty of room to stuff the cotton batting and I knew I would be finishing off the straight edge by hand. You can also take the pillow approach and machine sew nearly all around the edge and then stuff the batting through the small opening but for me, this was easier. Also, I didn’t turn the felt inside-out but left the edge neatly cut with fabric scissors. A trick I’ve learned about stuffing batting is to use the end of a knitting needle to make sure that it is evenly stuffed and that it reaches into all of the nooks and crannies.

Pin Your Remaining Edge

Next Up: Embellish

I pinned the straight edge to prepare for the hand sewing part. Paul suggested I put a silver lining on the clouds and I found these silver sequins at our local craft shop (yes, we have local craft shops here!). Up next: embellishing your clouds with sequins, beads, and ribbon!

The Nature Conservancy

Although Paul and I are still working with Mujeres: Cambia and we are finishing up projects with Fundación Neo Juventud, I have a new official counterpart here in Quito: The Nature Conservancy (TNC).

TNC works to preserve ecologically important lands and waters on which life depends. TNC works in over 35 different countries, including most of Latin America, and has been working for many years in Ecuador.

I have been working with them for a few weeks now and it’s been great! I am helping out with communications, marketing, and design work. My first project is a presentation that will be shown to all of the cashiers at the posh supermarkets: Supermaxi and Megamaxi.

The campaign is to encourage folks to bring reusable bags to the supermarket – not a very popular custom here. For every reusable bag a customer brings instead of using a plastic one (their plastic bags are also biodegradable BTW) the customer receives a little cardboard “coin” that can be deposited in one of two boxes. One box represents an investment in the Ministry of the Environment’s programs around Ecuador and the other box represents TNC’s projects.

In particular, this campaign will support the Water Funds and Coastal Jaguar Habitat programs. TNC has established community-run trust funds that support conservation and restoration of Ecuador’s natural water sources that stretch the length of the country all along the Andes and provide drinking water to the majority of the population.

Working with TNC, I have learned that the coastal jaguar is in danger of extinction. Its habitat – the seasonally dry forests on the coast – has been obliterated by agriculture, logging, and neglect. TNC works with several stakeholders and foundations (including Coca Cola) to conserve, reforest, and educate the public about this important habitat.

So, my presentation is something that will encourage the cashiers to promote the campaign more and to ensure that they are knowledgeable about where the support will go.

Think of me and TNC the next time you bring your reusable bags to the grocery store!


This New House


Apartment Renovations


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