Behind the Blog

Initially, I called this blog the "Build With Me Blog" because "build with me" was the request that I heard the most often from my two year old daughter. While the blog and my own DUPLO builds started out as something that I could do with my daughter, it has evolved into something more for me. While we most definitely still build together, we also now build in parallel.

Thursday, December 20, 2012

From Duplo India With Love: Peacock

DUPLO Peacock
  I had a great time working on this peacock. It was inspired by Skylar Schirtzinger's beautiful DUPLO spiral that you can see on his MOC page. After I built my version of a snail, I wanted to see how others worked out the problem of constructing a spiral shape. I really struggled with the snail's spiral shell, and I didn't think it came out particularly well. Not only did I think that Skylar's spiral was very cool, I also really liked the technique that he used to create it. I had never thought of only partially connecting one brick to another. I always just mashed one brick completely onto the next one! Anyway, I liked the idea of lifting up the bricks
Peacock Tail Feathers
and wanted to use the technique in my next creation. I thought that it might be fun to use lifted bricks to create a feathered effect. This brought me to the peacock.
   As a child, I had only seen peacocks wandering around the New Orleans Audubon Zoo. I had never really thought about them in the wild until my husband and I watched a video about the tigers in India. There was an incredible shot of a peacock perched in a tree at sunset. The sky was bright orange, and the trees and bird were in silhouette. The bird's tail feathers dripped off the tree branch, and in one sudden and graceful movement, the bird flew to another tree in the forest. I will never forget that image and the startling realization that there are forests filled with tigers and wild peacocks. How could such a large gaudy tail not be an incredible liability in nature? Of course, I am glad that it is not. They are stunning birds.

Peacock Detail

Thursday, October 4, 2012

Creepies and Crawlies: Snail

Since Bella and I were making lots of creepies and crawlies, I thought it would be fun to try and build a snail. I did not anticipate how difficult the shell would be for me and how weirdly obsessed I would become with it! For some reason, unknown to even me, I really wanted the shell to have a spiral in it. Bella didn't care and, to be perfectly honest, became bored with my seemingly endless constructions and then destructions of snail shells. She only came back to build with me when we put the snail in a grass garden and added flowers. She really went to town with the flowers. She told me that she was building a zinnia garden like the one we planted together this past summer.
DUPLO Snail in a Grass Garden
    Though you probably can't tell from the picture, I really tried to form a spiral with the bricks, and the resulting shell is hollow. I wish I had thought to take a picture of a cross section of the shell! I just thought of that as I am writing this post.
   If anyone out there has built a spiral in any of their DUPLO or LEGO creations, I would love to see it!

DUPLO Snail Top View
Snail in Bella's Zinnia Garden

Saturday, September 15, 2012

Creepies and Crawlies: Grasshopper

DUPLO Grasshopper

Creepies, Crawlies, Jumpies??? We had a bunch of grasshoppers on our zinnias this past summer so I guess they are still on my mind! This bug grew a lot bigger than I had originally planned, and it seriously taxed our collection of green bricks. For the grasshopper's antennae, we used the same gas pump hose pieces that we used for the ladybug's legs.

Front View

Back View

Side View

Saturday, September 8, 2012

Creepies and Crawlies: Ladybug

DUPLO Ladybug
    Land Ho! After building so many nautical animals, we are finally working on some land based creatures. I am not a huge fan of insects, but ladybugs fall into what I call the "cute bug" category - along with moths, butterflies, grasshoppers, beetles, crickets, and fireflies. I have also recently learned that ladybugs are very helpful garden insects. Given the state of our garden, I should be releasing hordes of them into the yard.
    Anyway, I am trying not to pass my prejudices down to Bella which is why you will find me enthusiastically building DUPLO bugs, handling slugs, and entering the snake house at the zoo. We really did have a lot of fun constructing our ladybug. The legs are the same DUPLO gas pump hoses that we used to make the tentacles on the jellyfish. We love those pumps. They are a lot of fun to use. Bella wanted the ladybug to have a visible face so we added the eyes which you can see from the front.
DUPLO Ladybug with Eyes

Sunday, August 26, 2012

Under the Duplo Sea - Duplo Octopus

DUPLO Octopus
The bumps on the DUPLO blocks have always reminded me of the suction cups on an octopus. I have been wanting to build an octopus with Bella for some time, but we never had enough blocks in the same color family. Looking to expand our collection of basic blocks, I checked out the basic sets on the DUPLO website, but they cost more than I could afford for the quantity that I wanted to purchase. I then thought that since DUPLOs are made from such durable plastic, why not just try to locate some used ones? DUPLOs seem so indestructible to me that how could you even tell if they were used? Besides, even if you can tell they have been played with before and often, isn't that a good thing?
    I found out about the BrickLink website from a very nice and helpful LEGO representative whom I had contacted to ask whether or not a certain DUPLO set had been discontinued.
Octopus Closeup
When she told me that the set had been discontinued, I told her that explained the crazy prices I had seen for it listed by sellers on Amazon's website. As I complained a bit that these sellers had inflated their prices so high, the representative told me about the BrickLink website and described it as a marketplace created by people who genuinely like LEGO and are interested in building things and collecting pieces.  She believed there was a lot less price gouging on that website, and I think she is right. I used the site to find a seller of  Bella's desired set for a very reasonable price.
   The night that I decided to buy some used bulk bricks, the BrickLink site was down. Since I don't find myself with too many free nights where I can internet shop, I decided to give eBay a try and found a lot of used bulk sets. The sellers on eBay do a pretty good job of photographing and describing what their bulk sets contain. I wanted a set that just contained the standard rectangular and square faced bricks and some of the eye bricks. I was able to find a set with about 200 pieces for less than $40.
Octopus Sideview
    A few days after ordering the set, our bulk blocks arrived, and we began the octopus construction. Yes, the used blocks do have some scratches and discolorations, but neither Bella nor I even notice them. All we see is a huge pile of DUPLOs!
   I guess instead of building an octopus, we should have been making a hurricane warning flag since Hurricane Isaac has just entered the Gulf. Hang on everybody down there and stay safe!!

Monday, August 20, 2012

Under the Duplo Sea - Jellyfish

Duplo Jellyfish Capturing a Snack
When we were little, my younger sister and I hero worshiped our older brother John (that view has been updated, but that is a topic for another blog). We thought that everything was cooler, funnier and more exciting when he was around.  We always wanted him to go swimming with us, and John always wanted to stay inside to read his book. To silence the nagging, John would tell us that if we went swimming for 30 minutes and didn't get stung by a jellyfish, he would come out and swim too. Happy with the promise, my sister and I would fly down to the water and play in the surf. Thirty minutes later, we would emerge from the water and rush to tell John that we hadn't encountered a single jellyfish. In late summer, when the Gulf waters are as warm as bathwater, this would hardly ever be true and our bare, skinny legs showed the telltale marks of a jellyfish sting. Needless to say, John hardly ever went swimming with us.
Duplo Jellyfish 
   Sometimes at the end of the summer, the currents would bring so many jellyfish close to shore that it was impossible to swim. You couldn't be in the water for more than a few minutes without feeling that electric sharp pain of the jellyfish venom. As if in compensation for the days you couldn't swim because of the abundance of jellyfish, the Gulf waters would glow green at night as the waves churned up the pieces of bioluminescent jellyfish. It was a spectacular sight.
   When we first started to build the Duplo jellyfish, we tried to use just the standard Duplo blocks (the ones with square and rectangular faces). All of our attempts came out too clunky. So for the body of the jellyfish, we ended up using a cupcake top from the LEGO DUPLO Creative Cakes 6785 set. The jellyfish tentacles are the gas pumps and water hoses from various Duplo sets that have cars and firetrucks (LEGO DUPLO Gas Station 6171, DUPLO My First Fire Station 6138, etc).
   I added the silver fish (from LEGO DUPLO My First Zoo 6136) as a snack about to be caught in the jellyfish's tentacles and the starfish after my husband asked if we were building a spaceship.
    The jellyfish was a big challenge to build with Duplo blocks. If anybody out there has any pictures of some Duplo jellies, we would love to see them!

Tuesday, August 14, 2012

Under the Duplo Sea - Seahorse and Seagrass

Duplo Seahorse in Seagrass

     I was about ten years old when I first saw a live seahorse. I was sitting on top of an old tire inner tube half dreaming, half staring into the soft yellow green Gulf waters when a patch of brown seaweed came into focus. I noticed a tiny brown seahorse, no longer than an inch or two, clinging to the seaweed. Almost perfectly camouflaged, the seahorse looked as if it had grown from the plant itself. I scooped him up with some water to show my mom and sister who were just as excited as I was about the tiny creature. After we released him back into the water, we began to examine every piece of seaweed that we encountered. And there was a lot of it that day. It was one of those days when every wave wrapped scratchy pieces of it around your arms and legs. Every piece we found had a least one seahorse attached to its branches. There had to have been hundreds of seahorses in the water, so many that even my sofa loving, water avoiding brother waded into the surf to see the creatures.
Duplo Seahorse
     After that day, we never saw the seahorses again. Our neighbor, Mrs. Weatherford, was our local expert on the Gulf. A direct descendant of the Creek Indian warrior William Weatherford, Mrs. Weatherford was in her sixties at the time of our seahorse encounter and lived at the beach all year around. She had grown up on the beach and knew it well. We told her about the hundreds of seahorses that we saw drifting along with the seaweed and that had seemingly just disappeared. She told us that when she was little, you could find seahorses in the water close to shore all of the time. Some were so large that you could see them swimming in the wall of water that builds up to the wave's crest. She said that their numbers dropped over the years, and she just didn't see them anymore.
    I am in my 30's now, and I have seen that the number of sea creatures in the Gulf along the shoreline is a lot smaller than what it was when I was little. It is almost as if the Gulf is dying. I am hoping that the attention that the BP oil spill has brought to the Gulf Coast will make people as passionate as I am about saving these waters! I hope that Bella will one day encounter a seahorse in the wild as I once did.
Side View      

    In the meantime, we build Duplo seahorses. I am including a side view to show how to wrap the seahorse's tail around the seagrass. We made a simpler seahorse first (shown below). While we were building this first version, my memories of seeing the Gulf seahorses bubbled up in my mind, and they made me wonder if we could make a seahorse that wrapped around something. For our second seahorse, we added the seagrass.

Simplified Seahorse

Friday, August 10, 2012

Under the Duplo Sea - Fish and Reef

Duplo Fish in a Duplo Coral Reef
Maybe it is our upcoming trip to the Gulf Coast that has Bella and me thinking about all things under the sea. Whatever it is that has us longing for sandcastles, gulf water and shrimp po-boys, we had a great time building our Duplo fish and coral reef. Bella had the most fun making the free forms of our fan coral. She kept making pieces of coral for our fish long after I had to get back to work. We used the Duplo flowers for sea anemones and the transparent blue blocks for the ocean water. Unfortunately we used up our stash of the transparent blues rather quickly! We definitely need more blocks.

Duplo Fish
Here is a close up of our fish. If you don't have the tail pieces, you could fashion a tail by creating two sets of stairs from the square blocks. The top part of the tail could be replaced with stairs heading up and the bottom part of the tail could be replaced with stairs heading down.