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Maker Moment: Thursdays with Laurel & Christine Koh of Boston Mamas & Minimalist Parenting

Posted by Melissa Massello  December 20, 2013 11:30 AM

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Christine_Koh_Boston_Mamas.jpgPhoto: Christine Koh

Master multitasker takes on a whole new meaning when talking about Christine Koh of Medford, a violinist and brain scientist turned graphic designer, blogger, and author. Not only is this mother of two girls one of the top ranked "mom bloggers" on the Internet, through her popular local parenting blog BostonMamas.com (as well as a sought-after consultant to some of the biggest consumer brands in the country), she continuously inspires her friends and followers by finding the time to keep fit and craft — even during the holidays! — on top of her successful career. If you're hunting for that elusive work-life balance, Koh seems to have the roadmap.

With her new book Minimalist Parenting, co-authored with Asha Dornfest of Parent Hacks, now on shelves, we sat down with the force of nature herself to find out what drives her to make stuff and make time for it all — including how she manages to take Thursday afternoons completely off from work for quality DIY time with her older daughter, Laurel — in this week's Maker Moment.

What's the first project you remember making/crafting?
One of my earliest, happiest craft memories is learning how to do paper mache in elementary school. I haven't done it in a long time and the very next project my 9-year-old daughter Laurel and I plan to work on after the holidays is this paper mache unicorn head. Actually, two of them. I want one for my office and now Laurel wants one for her room, too.

chistine_koh_min_parenting_quilt.jpgPhoto: Christine Koh/Posh Peacock

Most successful project? Biggest fail?
This is probably most successful on an emotional level, but I'd say my most successful project was making my first big quilt, which was for Laurel when she moved up to a big girl bed. That was five years ago and she still reads and kisses the dedication tag every night before bed. {sniff!}

Biggest fail was trying to make hand-beaded Christmas ornaments per a Martha Stewart tutorial. I was going to make a set of six for my sister and her husband's first married Christmas together and the project was so ridiculously time consuming (stringing all the individual beads, etc.) that I only managed to finish ONE BALL. Ridiculous.

What do you DIY the most?
Right now, paper crafts. After I finished my Ph.D. and before my postdoctoral fellowship, I had several months of down time while I was waiting for my fellowship funding to come in. So as not to be totally sloth, I picked up a part time job at Paper Source and it was SO AWESOME. I became obsessed with paper projects, and it was a critical step in me launching my design business.

origami-advent-calendar-boston-mamas.jpgPhoto: Christine Koh/Boston Mamas

Favorite/least favorite tools/materials?
In my opinion, everyone needs a rotary trimmer. Also, a dedicated pair of super sharp only-for-fabric scissors. I also think screen printers are awesome. I have an old Gocco machine that is just so cool, and a Yudu that I actually won at a conference and have yet to crack open. Maybe I should make a New Year’s resolution to screen print some cool shirts in 2014. I don't have any least favorite tools/materials, I love all craft supplies equally.

Has a project outcome ever surprised you?
This is a different interpretation of your question but I want to share a maker-related story: Last year was an incredibly hectic one for me. I had a new-ish baby, was working full-time, and also traveled a ton. It really took a hit on family life in general, and my older daughter Laurel took it particularly hard. I’m pretty sure she was really angry at me but just couldn’t say that. So after the new year I decided to pull the reigns in on my travel, and also block off Thursday afternoons for creative, one-on-one time with Laurel. She is super, super into craft projects.

This turned out to not only be awesome from a craft perspective but also from a general emotional place too. When Laurel and I are crafting side by side, I've found that she is more willing to share — especially about tough things — than when we're face to face. Our Thursdays have been so beautiful, for both our creativity and our connection to one another.

The other cool, related thing: I started using the hashtag #ThursdayswithLaurel as a joke, chronicling our Thursday adventures. Since then, I've had several parents tell me that #ThursdayswithLaurel inspired them to carve out one-on-one time with their kids to wonderful effect. You have no idea how happy that makes me!

What's the best advice you've ever received?
Don't be intimidated by lack of training, whether you're crafting for business or fun. For a long time I was insecure about my design work because I'm self-taught and then a professionally trained artist friend told me I needed to let go of that. That in a way, I was free of the constraints of being taught to do things a certain way based on "shoulds." That advice helped me so much.

What's your top tip for first-timers?
If you're looking to start a project don't just walk into a big craft store like Michael’s without a goal. You will become overwhelmed and may find yourself weeping in a corner amidst decorative duct tape rolls. Instead, prowl around (e.g., Pinterest, DIY blogs) and see what projects you immediately gravitate towards. For example, if you see that you keep pinning jewelry or sewing projects, start there! Also, start with something BEGINNER level. I know so many people who have become jaded about crafts because they tackle a project that is too hard and become frustrated.

Anything you DIY now that you never thought you would?
Hmm…at the moment, no. Right now I tend to operate in the textile and paper sphere but I'd like to experiment more with metals. Also, in the new year I'm planning on a big home décor revamp and I'm going to start experimenting with DIY décor projects. Exciting!

What won't you ever DIY/when do you call in the experts?
At the moment, anything requiring power tools. After 20+ years as a violinist I have a natural fear of activities that might damage my hands in a significant way. Subsequently, I fear that if I try to use a power tool I will accidentally saw a finger off. Ridiculous, I know.

minimalist_parenting_book_christine_koh.jpgPhoto: Shoestring

"When I'm not making stuff, I'm…"
…WRITING. I write every day. I've been blogging daily (or almost daily) at Boston Mamas (and elsewhere) for over seven years. I co-authored my first book (Minimalist Parenting: Enjoy Modern Family Life More by Doing Less) this past year…I simply love writing. And then if I'm not writing or crafting/designing, it's pretty likely you'll find me in the kitchen with my daughters, Laurel and Violet (I think it's crucial to teach kids to bake from scratch early on…) or out in the 17-degree weather running. Because I'm a crazy Bostonian like that.

Thanks, Christine! Find more of Koh's parenting, fitness & design inspiration over on BostonMamas.com, PoshPeacock.com, and MinimalistParenting.com, or pick up her book of the same name (pictured above) on Amazon.com.

This blog is not written or edited by Boston.com or the Boston Globe.
The author is solely responsible for the content.

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About the Authors

Melissa Massello is a newspaper journalist turned startup junkie and lifelong Bostonian who prides herself on her do-it-yourself attitude. From making her prom dress out More »
Tara Bellucci is a Boston-based writer that lives for fonts, food, and flea market finds. Whether decorating jars of her homemade jam for The Boston More »

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