Tag Archives: inspiration

How does your garden grow?

A colleague at work has been quite the inspiration. Each time I see her, she has an amazingly colorful salad and she’s upped her game recently by creating what looks to be delicious mason jar salads. I’ve seen mason jar salads trending on Pinterest and have pinned a few (the ones that show how you layer and assemble for the best culinary experience) but had yet to try and attempt my hand at making one.

On Monday last week, this colleague was gifting jars of salads to others as thanks for their good deeds in an already crazy school year. I sat by, pouting and lamenting that I couldn’t do anything quite as lovely. My salads are always boring, I don’t have any interesting vegetables. I can’t….

Mindset check.

I challenge students to push themselves and sometimes forget how hard is to apply the same principle to myself. I’m reminded of the series of events that led me to try hosting a DIY Paint Night and of the character I’m sharing with students this year who, while brave, has a very fixed mindset (Ally from Fish in a Tree). If I’m going to be asking students to make an effort, to think outside the box and get out of their comfort zones…shouldn’t I be able to do the same?

So, taking advantage of the farmer’s market that’s down at Bixby Park this Tuesday, I wandered through various stalls, studying produce, jumping for joy at golden beets and I gradually amassed an army of vegetables.







Sitting down for the lunches this week was a double celebration. One in the fact that I had a beautiful lunch before me. The other, was for my joining the ranks of students who take the first step and try.


In retrospect, maybe I’ve been wanting to make mason jar salads subconsciously all this time. I somehow happened to have a case of mason jars delivered on the same day as the farmer’s market and, now that I think about it, I may have planned for this over the summer, by helping mom grow her garden.

If you don’t already know, I’m something of a DIY fan. I think it comes from how my dad, when we were younger, would always be tinkering to make things for us: Disney Princess lamps, a zoetrope machine after my siblings and I couldn’t step away from one at a museum (we all fought over who got to use it), or bookshelves that fit, Lego® like, around our bunk beds so we could tuck away both books and glasses. Mom would make dresses, fun hair ties and bows, clothes for the dolls—she was the reason why I admired Maria von Trapp.

Mom mentioned wanting to build a trellis this summer. She had a packet of seeds that she wanted to plant and vaguely remembered that the seeds she had would result in vines that spread upward and sideways and liked to climb. She didn’t know what would grow, only that things would grow. I think we spent a day thumbing through Pinterest looking at ideas and exploring possibilities.

This is what we ended up building.


PVC trellis 1


PVC trellis 1 (front view)

The first trellis was constructed from PVC on the left side of the yard and it used netting, the type you lay down to prevent weeds. The idea was that the vines would climb up, and there’d be enough space for whatever grew to drape downwards.

The second trellis was constructed with the same frame and placed on the right side of the yard. We ran out of netting but mom didn’t want us to make another run to Home Depot, so she got creative with rope and twine and twist ties.


I had a little assistance with trimming PVC. A variety of tools was at my disposal, including a saw and a jigsaw that I think was about as old as I was.





The funny thing was, the older jigsaw was designed with no safeguards. The Craftsman saw was newer, but I couldn’t figure out how to bypass the safety mechanism. I used the older jigsaw, being hyper careful to unplug it after each use, annoying myself each and every time I did this.

Here’s what the trellis and plants looked like just starting out:



It’s a nice reminder that mother nature also works hard and try and stretch and grow. My favorite things to watch growing are the little strands that latch on and to something and twist around and around, becoming curly Qs: they show such tenacity (and look just a little bit wacky).


Here’s what the trellis looked like as of today:




Inspired by a colleague to make a simple salad this week, I’m ever grateful for the chance to explore and attempt new things, provided that my mind stop second guessing itself. I’m reminded of the word play in Fish in a Tree, when Mr. Daniels challenges Ally to look at the word IMPOSSIBLE in a different way.


Now let’s talk about the two different prototypes, the netting  vs. rope: which worked better and why?

DIY Paint Night

Where has the time gone? It is warm, fabulous May and I’ve been busy for the last few months running around between house sitting, re-decorating, attending a bachelorette party of a good high school friend and trying to get ready for her upcoming wedding.

The good news is: the Twin Sis is on her way back for the wedding too — which means we’re really going to celebrate…more on that soon.

Lately, I’ve been thinking about creativity. For those that don’t know, my dad is something of a Jack of all trades. He wrote a popular song that’s played often on Mother’s Day in Taiwan, was very into art and photography as a student when he came to the US, and is the creative genius behind the handmade Disney lamps shown below  (which the Twin Sis and I diligently toiled under for all our school work grades K-8.)

Disney Lamps

Twin Sis and I with hand made Disney lamps by dad.

Dad’s had up and down issues with his health over the years, including a year long stint in the hospital from what was to be a simple procedure, a benign tumor on his spine, and most lately, triple bypass heart surgery.

He’s doing fine now, thankfully, and as a means to help him recover and de-stress, I thought what would be better than for him to tap into his love of art and drawing as before?

Enter DIY Paint Night.

My initial introduction into Paint Night occurred on campus as part of one of our back to school sessions. All faculty and staff were all taken into the Performing Arts Center, told to sit in front of a blank white canvas and an instructor showed us the finished piece of art we’d master by the end of the day.

Many of us thought: No. Possible. Way.

Not having done much drawing since my elementary school years, it was completely daunting to pick up the brush and make the first move. There’s something about committing to the first stroke on the blank canvas and knowing you’d have to see the piece of art to completion.

A lot of folks had the same thoughts in mind, “What if I mess up?” But the funny thing about art is, you can’t make a mistake and even if you do, so what? Who’s to say it won’t become a masterpiece (to borrow the words of a coworker)?

My second foray into Paint Night was during the aforementioned bachelorette weekend and sitting Zen like and hearing the paint brush scritch across the canvas, I thought: how hard would it be to do this when the Gang all gathered for when the Sis came back? And: wouldn’t it be amazing to get dad painting and drawing again?

And so, DIY Paint Night was born.

After perusing Pinterest to see if there was anyone who’d attempted their own DIY Paint Night (a few, mostly for kids), I went to seek the advice of the art teacher on campus. Her recommendation was: start small.  A look through the local art store resulted in my purchasing square canvases that were 6×6 along with a handful of brush sets and tubes of paint. Of course, I then had to follow up with buying some books on how to paint and then gear up and sit down to actually practice.


Try One


Attempting perspective



Books Supplies

Books and supplies


All set to paint!

Though drawing wasn’t my forte — I was depending on dad to guide us with his know how— I wanted to be able to answer questions about mixing colors, brush types and any other fears that would require a gentle nudge to, “just do it.” Turns out, there’s a lot you can learn about art online.

On the big get together day, the Gang rose to the challenge. After a few quick initial sketches, one and all leapt into painting.

Initial sketches

Initial sketches

Amanda visiting from Taiwan!

Amanda visiting from Taiwan!

Judy and Mom painting indoors.

Judy & Mom @ work.

Jeffrey hard at work on Deadpool.

Jeffrey detailing Deadpool.

It’s amazing how once you get started, you take to it and just focus. Despite initial reservations and self doubts, “Can I do this? But I don’t know how to draw…” I think, deep down we all want to express our creativity. Considering the recent rise of coloring books for adults, maybe there’s something to be said about tapping into our younger days when expressing ourselves through crayon, color pencils, or paint was allowed. Somehow along the way, we gave it up for other things: focusing on school, basketball or tennis or work.

As the saying goes, pursuing art (or writing) rarely pays the bills.

Which is why I so admire authors and illustrators for their dedication to creating. It takes guts and courage to keep at their craft given how likely we are to venture away from it as we grow older and the challenges against the practicality of art, increases.

If there’s anything I learned in planning DIY Paint Night, it’s to every so often, try doing something creative again. Because the results? Masterpieces, one and all.

Masterpiece Ma-Chen Ying

Unfortunately, dad did not join in on Paint Night but opted to stick with the iPad. I’m not giving up on him and his creativity. There’s still a blank canvas or two left and plenty of paint. Plus, my notes for when the Gang gets together includes other ideas like, gardening, cooking, or writing…

For those that want the nitty gritty details for hosting your own DIY Paint Night, below is what I gathered for a group of 20, mostly from Blick Art Store. I’m very thankful for the helpful salesperson taking the time to listen to me as I explained my vision. In all, the supplies purchased, borrowed or on hand rounded out to be $7.50 per person, major savings from what you’d pay at a regular Paint Night!

6 brush set (6) @ $10
7 paint tubes @ $6 (primary blue, magenta, yellow, red, black, bright white, medium green)
20 6×6 canvases @ $2.25 (discounted when you buy in bulk)
$150 (with educator discount)

Borrowed/had on hand:
Book stands from Demco to hold the canvas (though many opted to lay them on the table)
Aprons borrowed from Book Fair stash
Plastic cups and mason jars to rinse brushes
Paper plates to act as paint palette

Another reason I went with the 6×6 size was, in the midst of redecorating, I couldn’t help but notice that there was a blank white wall that was in sore need of some decoration. There’s plenty of room on the wall for more art, possibly in different sizes, and it encourages more artwork for future get togethers. Notice the blank spots to the right and left of the center canvas. One’s for dad and the other’s for the Twin Sis’ Tim.

Sis and the art displayed!

Sis and the art displayed!