My watercolor travel kit started with watercolor crayons, but this summer (a summer in which I am home ALL THE TIME) I fantasized about travel and improved my portable watercolor kit. You know, so I am ready for whenever I get to travel again.
Eye shadow palettes make really good watercolor palettes – the little wells are already there, they just need to be cleaned out and filled up with tube watercolors. I had some trouble finding ones that were on their way to the dump, but over the summer I did manage to collect 3. The smaller to went to my kids (with hot glue used to make smaller compartments as needed). The bigger, glorious 32-well compact, is now mine and I love it. I don’t even have enough colors to fill it all! I started with a Sakura Koi set of 18 tube watercolors, so I mixed some together and left some wells empty for future expansion.
Want to make one?
Once I found an makeup compact that I wanted to use for paints, I started by emptying whatever makeup was left (these were all used) and washing it with soap. I had to use q-tips to clean out the corners when I left the metal pans in place. The one that I removed the metal pans from needed the glue removed.
Once dry, I laid out my watercolor tubes and filled each well. A toothpick helps for stirring the wet paint and ensuring it spreads to the corners.
After filling up each well, I left it to dry for 24 hours. Once it’s completely dry, it’s ready to use!
Watercolors have always seemed to mysterious to me. I certainly used them often enough as a kid, but always felt like there was a secret I just never understood. I even took a watercolor painting class in college becasuse I was sure that a college professor would certainly tell me the long hidden secrets. But they just talked about them like paints and colors, and I left the class still feeling like I was missing something. I mean, they never turn out like I expected, but once in a while, I would make something that looked ethereal and otherworldly. And I had no idea how I had done it.
And so, as a parent, I pulled out the watercolors and played another with my kids. I suppose it was when I started using watercolor crayons that I felt like I had some semblance of control over where the colors when on the page. I added the color with the crayon, then manipulated the colors with water. That made sense. It obeyed the laws of gravity, too.
And now I have dipped my toe in again and it feels less mysterious and more playful. I don’t alwasy know how the color will move, but I have made peace with that and just like to watch it move on the page, or see if I can catch the colors of the trees by mixing in a little more blue, or maybe it’s purple?
Curious about upcycling an old eye shadow palatte into a travel watercolor kit? Read more here.
My little story cloth took a swim on Sunday, when we spent the day next to a mountain creek (the prettiest little creek that you ever did see!). At the time I was very interested in my lunch, when I saw this little bit of fabric tumbling past me in the breeze. I leapt after it, but it moved quickly down to the water and floated on top. I thought it would stop there, since it wasn’t blowing in the wind… but I forgot about the current. The swift current.
It didn’t take me too long to catch the adventuring story cloth, and I didn’t get too wet fishing it out. But I spent a while thinking about the current after that. I had been thinking about electrical currents — the metaphorical charge you feel when an idea flashes through your brain. And also literal currents, since my kids spent the previous day wiring a robo-car with my husband. But now there is a new kind of current to think about — the river current!
What is pulling us? What are the forces that surround us?
When we commit a chunk of money to a vacation, we hope that we will come out of it with some good memories and awakened interests and family connection. I mean, it’s a lot of money. And a lot of work to plan, pack and carry out. So we want some return on our investment, right? We want to have fun, dammit!
But how? What’s fun for a grown man and also fun for a four-year-old?
Our vacation strategy was inspired by Dr. Brene Brown, author of The Gifts of Imperfect Parenting. She writes about her experience trying to find out what felt like “play” to everyone in her family — which can involve some detective work. Once Dr. Brown had her info, she drew Venn diagram to find the overlaps.
Taking a page from Brown’s book, we’ve tried to identify what is play for all of us, and where our play lists overlap. It’s not a big cross section. Our kids are fast and reckless in crowded museums, slow and aimless in wide open spaces. The list of group activities that satisfy me, my husband, a 4- and a 7-year-old is short. But that’s okay — helpful, even. We can fix those activities as the center of our vacation planning.
Beach-combing can keep all of us happy for a long while. When the little one loses interest, he can play in the water or dig or run or snack. Being in calm coves helps make it easier to trust him not to get knocked over by a wave, plus we all love finding a secret place out in the wilds. A warm day at the beach is so lovely, but we also spent a wet and cold week at the beach in the temperate rainforests of Washington State. Long underwear and rain gear for all. We spent that week hunting for agates, jasper and other rocks on the beaches, then warming up by the wood stove while we sorted all the treasures. And washed the treasures and polished the treasures and read about the treasures…
I have also realized that I need to separate being out in nature from hiking. Hiking with kids kind of makes me miserable. I feel stuck in the slow lane while I just want to move forward. And something about trails makes kid’s shoes turn to iron weights. Three steps in and they are tired. So, we aim to find a place where we all want to linger — a mountain stream is my favorite. The kids play in the water, and my husband and I are happy to join in for a bit. Then we can read, picnic, whittle, talk or just lie on warm rocks.
Also on our short list of fun-for-all activities is buffets (specifically breakfast or an Indian buffet) since everyone gets exactly what they want and the feel of abundance is a balm to the limits and constant compromise that come with travel. You want to eat a bowl of strawberries for breakfast? Go ahead, kid.
For a midwinter weekend getaway, we have a three-year-and-counting family tradition of going to a suite hotel upstate with an indoor pool, large breakfast buffet, and evening cocktail and snack hour. We eat junk food, watch TV and leave the hotel once a day to take a walk. We indulge and lounge and play and rest. It’s not exotic or expensive (off-season rates!), but it does feel decadent – for everyone.
Originally published in Dirt Magazine, Jan/Feb 2019. Updated May 2019