She’s certainly one of the most amazing crafters on the planet, but she’s also super fun, inspiring, and, well…adorable. (We’re pretty sure you’ll agree after you read our interview.) You may remember her as the woman behind Martha Stewart Kids—luckily for us she has just written a book, Candy Aisle Crafts, which, as obvious by its name, uses easily accessible supplies for crafting away. We’re buying this in bulk for holiday gifts, and for the birthday present closet.
Give us a little background on yourself/what you do/how you came to it. How much did becoming a parent shape what your business is?
When I look back at my childhood I realize that my path in the craft and lifestyle world was pretty much set from the start! I loved making things and was always hoarding cardboard and other materials for crafts, planning parties and decorating for holidays. I pored over every women’s or lifestyle magazine that my mom bought and made a series of tiny, strange fashion and food magazines. I was totally obsessed with my mom’s vintage Betty Crocker cookbooks with all the food-shaped-like-things. I studied painting at RISD and loved trying everything I could while I was there…metalsmithing, woodworking, printmaking, etc.
After school I worked briefly for ESPRIT doing display and then became a craft editor for Martha Stewart Living. I was there for over 19 years (!). Such an amazing adventure and I learned so much. I held a bunch of different positions and eventually became the Editorial Director of Martha Stewart Kids and Martha Stewart Baby.
After giving birth to Lionel and going part-time, I did product design for Martha Stewart Crafts and started work on my first craft book (with my friend and photographer Amy Gropp Forbes) Candy Aisle Crafts. The book features all edible crafts (I channeled my Betty Crocker memories). Our partnership, called Supermakeit, is all about projects using accessible supermarket edible and non-edible materials. Now I’m working on getting our blog started along with some videos and freelance crafting. Our second book, which comes out in August 2015, features crafts using non-edible supermarket materials like coffee filters, paper towel tubes, and balloons.
(Editor’s note: see our post here to get the how-to on the Triangle Tree Pops.)
I’m not sure that becoming a parent shaped my choice of work; I always loved creating crafts for kids and pushed for doing the kids magazine at Martha Stewart way before I had kids. I do, however, think that the ideas that I came up with after becoming a parent, whether for kid’s crafts, birthday parties or recipes, were much much simpler!
How old are your kids?
I have two boys: Sammy 11, and Lionel 8.
Where do you live?
We live in Brooklyn in Park Slope.
Do you work in a home office, and if you do, how do you deal with working from home?
My studio is the apartment below ours so there is a sort of separation (though I can hear my kid’s pitter patter when they’re home). It’s hard, because even though I have a babysitter a couple days a week I like to come up and see them when they get home from school and I lose work time and get out of my groove. It’s a tradeoff, I love being so close but it also means that I will go down there and work late into the night and on weekend. The other thing about working at home is that I sometimes have trouble going down into my studio if there is a sink full of dishes or unmade beds. Sometimes I need to force myself to ignore it…when you work at an office you have no choice but to bolt in the mornings and ignore all that. I’ll do a bunch of household things and then won’t get started until 11 AM or so and then I end up mad at myself and working at night after the kids go to bed.
What would you say is your “mom uniform”?
Funny, I do kind of have a uniform. I am usually hiding under an apron in my studio so unless I’m going to a meeting, I’m in some kind of comfy or stretchy clothes. I’ve loved this t-shirt dress from American Apparel and I think I have about 10 of them in different colors! They retired it briefly and I was glad that I’d be forced to come up with a new look but now they’re selling it again… so I’m off the hook! I usually wear it with leggings and a big necklace. I’m kind of addicted to big necklaces and make them for myself out of ribbons and cords. Even working alone in the studio I don’t feel right without one!
In cold weather I love my toasty No. 6 shearling-lined clog boots though it may be time for this new update!
Do you cook much–if you don’t, what are your ways around not cooking, and if you do, what are your go-tos–both for yourself, and for your kid?
I like to cook vegetarian food, and that’s what I taught myself during my college and single years (my roommates and I had one cookbook, Molly Katzen’s Moosewood Cookbook!). Now it’s a little tricky because I don’t eat red meat but my boys are serious carnivores! Recently I’ve had much more luck getting them to try new things by learning to cook meat. I’ll make pulled pork, ribs, pasta carbonara, and they love it, but I still haven’t tried any of it. For his birthday I gave my husband a cooking class that we’re going to take together where we’ll learn how to make tagines and curries so we can add to our meat repertoire. On the weekends when it’s cooler I love to make soups. I make myself pureed vegetable soups (using a stick blender makes it so easy!). This green soup is SO yummy!!
Weeknight dinner is a work in progress. Our staples are pasta or chicken. Often I am working right until dinner so I need speedy solutions. For now I use a lot of shortcuts and insta-dinners. I use Maya Kaimal or Trader Joe’s Tikka Masala or Korma simmer sauce and throw in chicken and some chickpeas and potatoes and make some rice or buttered (store-bought) naan to go with it. My kids love the roast chicken at Union Market. Whole Foods sells containers of pulled pork and prepared uncooked meatballs that I keep in the freezer. Next plan: I just bought Jenny Rosentratch’s new book Dinner: The Playbook and I am going to follow it to the letter! I loved the recipes in her first book but I’m excited for the strategies in this one! I already made her Korean Short Ribs and they were a hit with my boys.
How do you celebrate your child’s birthdays?
Our inspiration for their parties has always been whatever it is that they’re into at the time whether it’s planets, music, science, origami, Pee Wee Herman, DIY marshmallow shooters, etc… We will usually make a homemade paper mache piñata to go with the theme.
My husband and I love coming up with kooky activities; they don’t have to relate to the theme other than with a silly name. For my younger son’s Muppet-themed birthday party we had a Kermit and Miss Piggy piggy-pie-eating contest in the backyard. It related (very tenuously) to a scene in the original Muppet Movie. The kids loved it and we followed it with a water balloon toss (a.k.a. a fight) so they could clean off the pie.
I’m always on a soapbox about cutting the plastic junk out of party favors. I try to give something useful, usually a book. There’s a book out there to match the theme of any party. As an example, for the Muppet Party we gave out kid-level Jim Henson biographies. I’ll wrap each book up with a lollipop, or something sweet, so the kids don’t think I’m a total killjoy!
Best kid purchase/bang for your buck?
Our Vitamix blender! Not exclusively a kid purchase but it helps us get more fruit (and some veggies) into their diet. We made them before in our old blender but the kids really noticed/protested when we threw something like baby spinach in there. The Vitamix blender makes much smoother smoothies. The bang-for-your-buck here is that I accidentally discovered that they sell reconditioned blenders on their site. I got one for half the price of the one I was originally looking at and they had the color (white) that we wanted. It looked brand new when it arrived and has been fantastic!
Any rules about TV/screens?
My husband and I went to a panel discussion called “Parenting in the Digital Age” at The Greene Space (you can read about it here) thinking we’d leave with a strategy for how to deal with it all. It was an excellent panel but we left feeling like everybody is still figuring it out.
We have a no-screens-during-the-week policy, but until recently we had a bunch of “except when”s…certain play dates, “family show night” (like when the Cosmos series was on…we were big fans!). My kids really like doing math games and programming exercises on Khan Academy. It’s hard to say no to that. Or if they want to make a stop motion film with their Lego guys using an app on the iPad. But when the weekday no-screen policy was that loosey-goosey it was hard because there was always a lot of debating so we do better now with a strict policy. They are starting to ask less and less which has been a relief. The weekends are pretty much open though—probably too open!
What websites inspire you and for which parts of your life?
So many! I’m sure I’m forgetting something…
always streaming in the studio:
Preferred social media is….?
Pinterest…I wish I didn’t get sucked in as often as I do!
Any personal/parenting “a-ha” tips?
I read somewhere that during family dinner Obama and his kids play “roses and thorns” and share the good and the challenging parts of their day. We’ve done it ever since. Also, for another dinner table conversation starter, I just printed out that “Do You Know” scale.
You feel your best when?
I feel best when I’ve had a decent night’s sleep and I’ve “worked out”. I do the Seven Minute Workout almost every day and I LOVE it! Friends who really exercise make fun of me but if I don’t do that, I pretty much won’t exercise. I know I should do more but at least I’m doing that! The NY Times has a free app and a new advanced 7 minute workout.
Also, I feel best when I stand while I work, whether I’m crafting or working at my computer. I don’t have an official standing desk but the work table in my studio is standing height.
Best parenting advice you ever got?
The common thread through much of my favorite parenting advice is to really listen and let your kids know that they are heard. I’m certainly not great at it all the time but I am trying. A few books have really helped. Early on we loved The Happiest Toddler in the Block by Harvey Karp. Our older son was prone to terrible unsoothable tantrums and his book really helped us tame those with mirroring and other listening techniques.
Sometimes I feel like I could use a script to get through certain trying moments with my kids and the classic book How to Talk So Kids Will Listen & Listen So Kids Will Talk by Adele Faber & Elaine Mazlish provided creative ways to let them know that they are heard.