Upcycling by Danny Seo

Upcycling by Danny Seo

You may be new to the idea of upcycling.  This is not to be confused with recycling.

So let me start with my layman’s understanding of these 2 methods of reducing waste.

First recycling, something we’re all familiar with.  We recycle bottles, cans, paper and some plastics.  These items are (hopefully) collected, broken down and then reprocessed into completely new products.  Examples of this are plastic soda bottles used to create polar fleece, rubber soles from shoes made into track and who-knows-what pounded down and recycled into all the Whole Foods bags I’ve been buying.  The main idea is that the recycled item is broken down to an unrecognizable state first and then remade into something totally new.

Upcycling, on the other hand, re-purposes a product either partially or entirely in it’s original form.  I saw my first upcycled product in 1995 – a computer circuit board remade into a clipboard.  The clipboard was still plainly a circuit board, wires and all.  But it was being put to a whole new use.  Very clever.  Nowadays, upcycling is popping up everywhere.  Plastic utensils refashioned into Christmas ornaments at Chelsea Market.  Cashmere sweaters being chopped up and then patch worked back together even prettier than it started (with, unfortunately, just as big of a price tag).

Since I’m both a crafter and an environmentalist, I’m quite intrigued with the possibilities of upcycling.

Enter this book:  Upcycling by Danny Seo.  His book is chock full of great ideas and inspiration for upcycling projects.

I have seen other books and articles about crafting with items destined for the trash or recycling bin.  Many have great ideas.  However, some project ideas are just junky looking from inception.  No, I don’t want to make napkin rings out of paper towel tubes.  Ironing and fusing plastic bags together may create a strong material to work with and less waste, but, it still looks like plastic bags to me.  Not interested in making a sofa cover from old denim either.

So I’m a little picky over what projects I want to try.

Luckily for me, Danny Seo’s book contains all sorts of ideas I find appealing.  I will definitely be making crayon vases and cork-tin-can organizers with my kids.  I love the necktie wreath (and I agree that the more tacky, the better).  The CD-jewel-case frames are perfect for Simon’s room.  If the right rug ever comes my way, I want to make that bear-“skin” oriental rug.  Even Jin requested I make the hotel-key-card tray from all our old Disney day passes and hotel cards. 

Of course, I can’t get excited over every project in his book.  His chopstick trivet actually looks quite nice, but I think I’ll just keep using my supply of take-out chopsticks to scrape out my drains (a disgusting use to put them to, but they are disposable!).  No bedroom clouds made from pillow-stuffing either.  Too apt to collect dust.  And I’m still not sure if he’s joking about that necklace of hotel soap on a rope…

Still, there is a wealth of fun and doable ideas in Danny Seo’s book.  I’m so glad I stumbled across it.  In his introduction, he says something that really resonates with me, so let me quote him:

In an increasingly disposable world, I think it’s empowering to make something yourself and even reassuring that something you no longer use doesn’t necessarily have to be shipped to the landfill.  There’s something calming and meditative about sitting down and tapping into your own imagination – and not Google – to come up with fantastic ideas on how to give something new life, new meaning , or new use.  – Danny Seo

Well, I plan to tap my imagination, Danny’s book and website and Google to start incorporating upcycling into my crafting.  Very very excited to start the new year with this in mind.



I like beads.

I like combining different colored beads to create a palette and then looking at the way the sunlight reflects off the sparkling glass.  I think it’s fun to design projects using beads.  I even find it strangely relaxing to string length after length of beads on wire.

This morning, the boys and I experimented with filling bottles with some of my more delicate beads.  We pulled out short fat bottles and tall skinny bottles from the cupboard.  We filled the bottles with beads and then tried lining them in a row and clumping them together.  In the end, we decided one big bottle of beads looked best.  It’s now sitting on my desk to serve as decoration and inspiration.

 Beaded Pagoda (1) by Val Chan
Glass Beads and Wire (6.5 inches in diameter by 13 inches high)
Artist, friend and mentor, Susan Duncan introduced me to the idea of sculpting with beads and wire.  She created an incredible beaded bird cage out of glass beads and wire.  When I saw it displayed at an art show, I became obsessed with the idea of making a beaded cylindrical pagoda.  
Ever generous, Susan encouraged my attempt to copy her work.  She even spent an afternoon shopping for beads with me and gave me a few tips on working with wire.  I was devastated to lose my friend to cancer.  When I look at my beaded pagoda, I always think of Susan and how lucky I was to have such a friend. 
 Beaded Pagoda (2) by Val Chan
Glass Beads and Wire (base 4.5 inches by 5 inches; 8.5 inches high)
And then I started dreaming of another pagoda – this time in red and orange.  I intended to make the lines and grids of beads much tighter, but had some trouble manipulating the wire.  Still, I rather like the end result.
Beaded Man Necklace by Ethan Chang & Val Chan
Big beads are fun too.  Simon and Ethan keep an eye out for unique and interesting beads.  They’ve set aside special finds for me more than once … (teachers at Church Street School – now you know why they stash away extra beads!)
One day, Ethan made me a necklace with a man dangling off the side of it.  He looked at broken earring parts and beads and saw a person sitting there.  Very cool.  Since the balance of the necklace was off a bit, E gave me permission to restring it so the little man could be better displayed.  This beaded necklace is one of my favorites. 
Beads.  Big beads.  Little beads.  Glass, wooden, metal and felted beads.  Use fishing line, elastic, pipe cleaners, or wire to string the beads on.  Make necklaces, bracelets, garlands, ornaments or sculptures.  Or just pour the beads in a bowl or bottle and enjoy the look of them.
Pajama Day

Pajama Day

I find that adding a story or using a special name can that turn something ordinary into something shiny and desirable.

For example, I don’t cook vegetable soup.  I cook stone soup.  Along with the cooking of the soup comes the story of Stone Soup.  I describe how hungry all the villagers were one winter and how reluctant they were to share their meagerly hoarded resources.  I tell of the first child who shared his family’s onions and how upset his parents initially were when he offered up their food.  As I pull vegetables out of the refrigerator, I list which villagers contributed what to that big old pot of stone soup… When the boys were preschoolers, this worked like a charm to get them to want to eat their vegetable soup…

Another example is from when Simon was quite small.  I often used the phrase nice and warm to create a little paradigm shift.  The bath water isn’t too hot… it’s nice and warm!  That rice I just scooped out of the rice cooker?  It’s perfectly nice and warm and just right for eating.  Wear those mittens and tuck your hands under the stroller cover to keep yourself nice and warm, Simon…. When Jin came home from a long stint of working late nights and heard our new catch phrase and then saw how effective it was, he actually blurted out that it was completely genius (the one time in 15 years of marriage he’s ever said that to me).

So, in the flavor of adding a little glamor to something simple, I have a new one for our family.

Pajama Day.

By using the name, Pajama Day, we elevate a day of lounging, watching TV and plain old sloth into a family celebration of rest, play and chill.

Pajama Day came about because we’d worn ourselves out by madly celebrating the Christmas season.  Holiday parties, dinners with friends, decorating, crafting, shopping, baking.  So much fun.  So exhausting.  Not to mention the everyday cycle of school, volunteering, after school activities, cooking, groceries, chores and homework.

We were all ready for a day of nothing.  But somehow, nothing for Christmas day just didn’t sound right to me.  I thought it sounded a little sad.  A little lonely.  How could we rephrase it to make it sound appealing?

Of course!  Christmas Day would be our family’s first Pajama Day.  I even bought new Christmas pajamas for all of us to mark the occasion.

On Christmas Eve, we eagerly took hot baths, donned our new lounging attire and commenced celebrating by climbing into my bed and watching a myriad of Christmas DVD’s until everyone fell asleep.

Christmas day we opened gifts, ate leftovers for breakfast, played with our new toys and watched more TV – all while staying in our pajamas.  In truth, Si & I did change into street clothes so we could go take a walk in the afternoon.  And Jin switched into gym clothes to get a quick workout in.  But we were all back in our pj’s in time for our Christmas dinner of ham, mashed potatoes and green beans.

Pajama Day went splendidly.  Ethan and Simon embraced the idea with excitement and enthusiasm.  They loved having a day where they didn’t need to rush through their usual morning routine and get out of the house to be on time for school, karate or church.  In the true spirit of a chill day, they even decided against brushing their teeth Christmas morning; I got a laugh out of that one.  Jin & I were  thrilled to have a day at home together.  By dubbing the day Pajama Day, we gave ourselves permission to stop for a little bit and just be.

Today, just one day after our restful day at home, we were at the ice skating rink by 8:30 AM.  Then we joined thousands of people to watch the Christmas Spectacular.  And after that we were insane enough to stop by the Toys R Us at Times Square (not the best idea)…. Jin has set up all sorts of plans for this upcoming week and I’m looking forward to all of it… but I’m also thinking to declare one more Pajama Day before this holiday week ends…



Less than an hour left of Christmas Eve.  The boys tried valiantly to stay awake until midnight but finally succumbed to sleep about 45 minutes ago.  Now it’s time for me to play Santa and go stuff the stockings.  But first I wanted to take a few minutes to look back at the marvelous few of weeks we’ve enjoyed.

All four of us braved the line at Macy’s one Friday night to visit Santa.  Jin & I get a big kick out of convincing Ethan that we really are entering the train in NYC and exiting in Santa Land.  We love it that he still almost believes us. 

After enjoying the wonders of Santa Land, it’s finally our turn for their picture with Santa.  This is our 6th year to visit Santa.  I wonder how many more years Si & E will agree to this annual picture? 

Ethan started us off with our gingerbread house decorating this year.  He and Simon each claim 2 sides of the house and half the yard.  The roof is supposedly mine to play with but both boys usually end up “helping out” there as well.

Our finished gingerbread house .

We decided to make coupons for Jin as one of his gifts.  We wrote coupons guaranteeing Jin uninterrupted time to watch basketball and take naps.  Both boys also made coupons that promise 30 minutes of complete silence…. wonder if I can get them to make me a few of those as well?

Of course I did my Christmas baking.  My favorites remain chocolate-cherry brownies and ginger molasses crinkles.  I tried making fudge for the first time as well; the peanut butter fudge was a big hit with everyone.  I’m amazed at how easy it is to make – I’ll  have to experiment more with different flavors.

So many beautiful decorations to see around the city.  One we always like walking by is the Christmas tree next to the New York Stock Exchange.

 The NYSE is always impressive as well.

A super fun way to start off Christmas Eve is ice skating at Bryant Park.  Got to get there super early because the line is l_o_n_g by 10 am!

Love today.  Love this time of year.  Love my family.  So so grateful for it all.

And amazingly enough, I managed to knit that second elf hat this evening.  Jingle and Jangle are all set for Christmas morning. 

Merry Merry Christmas!

Elf Hat for E

Elf Hat for E

As if I didn’t have a long enough list of holiday things to attend to…. a week before Christmas I became convinced that I needed to knit a festive hat for Ethan.  I searched the internet for a free pattern and found one I liked for a striped stocking hat here

If you clicked on that link, you will notice that my green and red concoction looks nothing like that neat red and white hat.  I intended to knit a sleek stocking hat with a long tail and tassel but made a giant pointed elf hat with jingle bells instead.  Whoops.  

Well, I did choose to use a super bulky yarn instead of worsted weight, size 11 needles instead of size 8 and then I completely changed the pattern as I knitted … frankly, I’m just relieved my end result is still recognizably a hat…  

Still, Ethan is thrilled with his new hat.  He wore it proudly to school this morning – jingling all the way.  Simon liked it enough to request one for himself as well.  The boys have decided they will be Jingle and Jangle.

I still plan to make a proper stocking hat one of these days, but I’d better get going with another one of my silly over-sized jingly caps if Jangle is going to have his in time for Christmas….