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Counter Cultural

February 7, 2014 There’s nothing typical about the way my family lives...especially in contrast with the average River Forest household. In 2009, we sold our five bedroom, three bath house  and moved into a two bedroom, one bath apartment. Most people would see this as a move backwards. But we saw it as a chance of a lifetime! We felt free as birds! The ball and chain of a mortgage was gone and we had NO DEBT!

    We accepted a position to manage a building full of international students from all over the world, who attend English language classes at Dominican University. It’s been an amazing 5+ years meeting young people from almost every culture. And what an experience for our children! We have a map of the world in our kitchen that we reference often when they want to know where our students come from.

    But back to our counter cultural life... it freed me up to pursue a dream of opening a creative space where people of all ages could come discover their own abilities and develop skills for life. What a ride it’s been! We bought a studio nearby and on President’s Day 2010, the doors of The Little Bits Workshop opened. Our workshops have expanded into five Oak Park after school programs and we teach 8-10 classes every week. From a staff of one (me), we’ve grown to a staff of seven.

   We live in a small space so we can live big dreams.

    Unfortunately, my daughter who is now in middle school feels conflicted about our lifestyle. We live in a community of gigantic homes and many of her friends have their own rooms. Yesterday, a boy (I’ll call him Sam) blurted out in art class to Miika, “You’re poor, you live in an apartment.” She was quiet and upset all evening and finally at 9pm came out into the living room in tears telling me what this young man had said to her in front of the whole class. Oooooh, this made me mad!!!:

   Dear Sam,

You have no idea what you’re talking about. First of all, Miika is not poor. She lives an amazing life surrounded by creativity, culture, wonderful experiences and most of all has many very good friends who don’t judge her by where she lives. She has a family who loves her SOOOOO much and is always here for her. She has everything she needs.

    We have been entrusted with a special kind of wealth, some monetary, but more importantly gifts and talents. “To whom much is given, much is required.” Some day, when you grow up and can see the world more clearly, you’ll see that the value of person is not in what they have, it’s in who they are and what they believe in and in how they help others. When each of us dies, it won’t matter if we lived in a $600,000 house and had three cars. That’s not what I’d want on my obituary! It’s important to live the way you want to be remembered which for our family is simply so that we can give freely.


Miika’s Mom


Upcycled Cigar Boxes
December 26, 2013 Little Bits Cottages are everybody’s favorite project at the workshop. Kids who have made them once often ask to make them again. I think the need to create a space of our own is buried in our psyche.
Happy Birthday Mimi!
October 10, 2013 Let me tell you about Mimi. She’s 8 and a crafty wiz kid! This is her 4th year at Little Bits... and we just hosted her 2nd birthday celebration at our workshop. Many thanks to Mimi’s family for being part of this dream from the very beginning. This little house above is in honor of her family.... Mimi and her sister share my LOVE, LOVE, LOVE of making little houses.... Together we’ve made a village!!! And a VERY crafty one at that.

Social Impact of Crafts
May 7, 2013 Every once in a while I get a request to complete a survey by a graduate student gathering data for a thesis. Most questions are fairly dry and boring, but yesterday I received a request to answer a survey measuring the social impact of my business... I was intrigued, challenged and even a little giddy as I began to informally and unscientifically measure the impact of The Little Bits Workshop.

It’s really quite simple. I have a core group of kids who have been developing their fine motor skills, problem solving skills, inventive ideas and imaginations for over three years at  The LBW. When new kids join us, members of our core group, regardless of their age, are miles beyond in their ability to create independently. They are also excellent teachers and often will step in to help our new students use their hands and minds. There’s no way for me to fully measure the impact of learning all these crafty strategies, but I have to believe—and this is what keeps me going—that kids who learn to implement their ideas will be leaders and teachers who go way outside their boxes in the real-worky-world.

Woodland Storybook Camp

March 29, 3013 Back in the summer of 2001 when Paul and I flew across the world to a remote Russian village to help run a summer camp, I never in my wildest dreams could have imagined how a dream could have been fulfilled to this extent... Twelve years later, I’ve found myself watching the beautiful minds of children bloom with creativity from the magic seeds that are there just waiting for water and sunshine.

This week at Woodland Storybook Camp, kids discovered that they have books and illustrations inside.

We kicked off the week by reading stories, creating an improv fairy tale in the forest, then plunging in and writing. What a thrill to hear and see imaginations transform into turning pages.
Here is Ava, reading her story to us....
And the grand finale this week.... Fairy Gardens...a real place for imagination to live.

Mondays&Tuesdays@Hatch January 7, 3013 We’ve been having a blast at Hatch School in Oak Park making RoboClocks. It’s the perfect project for cleaning out everybody’s junk drawers. The greatest part is that these are functioning clocks and a whimsical and m
otivating way for our younger kids to start learning to tell time. Hammers, drills, glue guns and screw drivers...all tools that kids are learning to use.

Christmas Topiary November 28, 2012 Yesterday the young adults who participate in the programs provided by Communtiy Support Services, came to the Workshop and made Scrappy Christmas Topiaries. Thanks to Cate Prado, editor of Cloth•Paper•Scissors for the inspiration. I had a completely different project planned until I saw her blog post.

  Community Support Services is a Brookfield based day program that provides productive activities for adults with disabilities. The Little Bits Workshop is very happy to host them every Wednesday morning.

Happy Birthday Mimi! October 16, 2012 A birthday project for my little friend Mimi’s party at the workshop. Chaos & serenity in a  silhouette.

Little Escapes September 11, 2012

There’s just something about little cottages and cabins that draws me in. Maybe its the constant buzz of my urban neighborhood that makes me want to escape to a quiet place? At The Little Bits Workshop, our Thursday Afterschool Workshops will begin with this project...the little bits cottage.

We’re also taking this project down the road to Hatch After Hours, an after school program in Oak Park. Kids LOVE this little cottage project and it’s such a skill-builder. We sew, sculpt, cut, knit, paint and imagine. Making these houses allows the artist to go into a peaceful, happy, creative zone.

Getting Back August 20, 2012

After a few weeks of vacation, I’ve been trying to get my head in gear for our Fall Schedule and stumbled upon this yarn bomb that was done in Helsinki about a year ago. As a Finn, this makes me extremely proud!!!!

Yarn Magic June 30, 2012

Kids learned and improved their knitting and crochet skills this week and  had the big thrill of installing their work on Lake Street. Above is the Bunny Garden Bomb. Below is the Learning Tree, a patchwork of all the kids’ first work.

And the Wishing Tree where passersby can hang their wishes in the breeze....

The Giving Tree, a place to share handmade treasures. We knitted and crocheted little do-dads to give and take.

We scrambled to get the yarnbombs up before these scary clouds cut loose!!!!

My Hero!

June 16, 2012  I keep crossing paths with a girl named, Georgia. I think the first time I noticed her was at Trader Joes where she carefully packed my groceries. Then I went to an event at Opportunity Knocks. There she was again, bright, funny, conscientious and diligent. Georgia has Down syndrome and she’s my hero! She gives me a beautiful glimpse into my son, Nathan’s future. Georgia and Nathan were my inspiration for this past week’s camp at The Little Bits Workshop:  Be a Craftivist— a person who uses craft to send a message out into the world.

Our message? Acceptance, patience and respect for those with disabilities. We stitched up banners and planted different times of day, but ultimately together.  Both the campers at the workshop and individuals who are part of the Opportunity Knocks program put their abilities together to create beauty. Our message on the banners:




Another underlying message that I believe is so important is, that regardless of one’s age or ability, learning a skill is powerful. These banners were created by young children 5-9 years old and young adults with disabilities. It was hard work. Everyone was challenged by this project. But through perseverance and  a little sweat, everybody made an impact.

Imagine my surprise when my hero Georgia walked through the doors of the workshop last Monday to sew banners. Then two days later, back again to plant a garden along with about 13 other individuals with disabilities. That’s Georgia at the top of the page stitching on flower stems that she braided from t-shirt yarn. Each of our flowers is a repurposed vintage doily purchased from the Aspire thrift store in Maywood, whose proceeds benefit individuals with disabilities in the surrounding area.

Totally Green Girl Scouts!

June 2, 2012  Green initiatives swirled around this year-end bash for our local troup of 25 Girl Scouts. Each one went home with a handmade flower bag made from repurposed wool sweaters and blue jeans.

Beyond My Wildest Dreams!

May 13, 2012  Last Saturday, we hosted our very first Trunk Show at the workshop and I’m still in a dizzy, sweet, daze. The quality of work and the support of our community simply blew me away! Thank you, thank you everyone!! We’ll definitely do it again!

My Little Chef March 8, 2012

Sometimes I forget that my son has Down syndrome. He’s a sparkly kid with a magnetic smile...oh, and he LOVES to cook. Nathan will turn anything in to roast beef...stinky socks, Tinker Toys, Kleenexes, etc... But when he’s REALLY cooking, he’s in last Monday evening when  I caught this happy moment.

He begged me to stir. How could I resist??? I will teach him to cook and maybe he will indeed be a big chef one day.

Creative Bliss    February 17, 2012

Today’s After School Workshop was all about BRIGHT IDEAS....Light ideas, that is... Our project? Making lamps or maybe I should say “RE-making” lamps. Old lampshades were stripped of their “oldness” and the kids got to let their inner artist shine as they picked fabrics, ribbons, jewels and even tie-dye t-shirts to recover the shades. The energy in the workshop was so electrified by being empowered to create a beautiful and functional project... I can’t wait to see them finished!!!

Counting Stitches    February 1, 2012

I’ve been completely obsessed with crocheting a granny square afghan for days now and it’s finally coming together. I rarely take on long projects because I’m so impatient by nature. But I’m determined this time to complete it. As you can see, I did get a little bored with the little grannies and made a few big ones along with a striped square for the center. I’m not sure where I’ll end up or how big it will get, but I’m enjoying the journey!

Buzz, buzz, buzz    January, 2012

The workshop has been a steady hum of creativity and excitement this month. Winter Camp, birthday parties, After School Workshops, Sewing & Knitting classes. It’s all good and very exhilarating to see people of all ages discover their hidden talents. I’ve been so busy running workshops, that I’ve hardly had time to grab a camera.

But I’ve been deliberate about making time to create.

I’ve had this idea brewing in my head ever since a pile of books fell off my headboard and onto my head. You see, we have this tiny little room and a HUGE KING BED. Somehow my side of the bed ended up against the wall—thus no room for a nightstand or reading light.

Meanwhile,  a friend was tossing out a few old drawers and I begged to rescue them. I drilled about 45 tiny holes around the drawers and crocheted across the front, mixing in one of my grandma’s doilies and Whalah!  A little book and magazine rack! I found a wall light at IKEA for about $20 to complete the nook.

I just stumbled upon this photo of a collage that I did a few years ago and it reminded me of how important it is to make time for soul projects...the ideas that brew in our heads. Making ideas is like restoration of who we are. For a creative person, it’s like exercise. It’s simply essential.