low-budget alice in wonderland: giant mushrooms


aiw stage

I work in a small rural school district that serves predominantly low-income families. Our drama club has 15-20 members, with a few extra students who join us the week or so before the production to help with crew responsibilities, hair and makeup, and the like. Funding for the drama club comes solely though fundraising. In our case, the annual production is our only fundraiser, which means the play budget comes from ticket sales and accompanying bake sale. We receive no additional funding from the district or outside organizations. With this in mind, the all-in budget for our productions is about $1,000.  After scripts and royalties, we typically have $600-$700 left for sets, wardrobe, advertising, and any other expenses we may incur. Given these circumstances, you can understand why we try to create our productions with thriftiness as a primary mindset.

When designing the set for Charlotte Chorpenning’s adaptation of Alice in Wonderland (produced by special arrangement with the Dramatic Publishing Company), I liked the idea of building giant mushrooms to decorate the set instead of trees to give the illusion of the miniature Alice so commonly associated with the story. Well, that and the fact that fake foliage is ridiculously expensive.

alice mushroom set


  • White PEX Pipe for the caps with connectors (one for each mushroom)
  • 1″x2″ Common Boards for the stems
  • 4″x25′ Air Duct Connector for the stems: will be cut into two 10′ and a 5′
  • Spray Paint
  • Copper Wire (I had this on hand for robotics projects and used it knowing that we could reclaim it afterward)
  • 1/2″ Dowels (purchased from Joann Fabrics)
  • White (or other solid color) bedsheets (we’d purchased a bunch last year from Goodwill for Christmas pageant angels, so I just used those)
  • Muslin or Felt (muslin was left over from previous costumes, and we had large swaths of felt that we’d used for set decorations)
  • Something for the base (more on this later)
  • Hot Glue
  • Duct Tape

Making the Caps

Contrary to the link, I actually had 50′ of PEX pipe to work with for the three mushrooms and a giant teapot (a project that was regrettably scrapped at the last minute).  I cut the pipe into two 12′ and an 8′ length and used the connectors to create hoops. Given the chance to do it again, I would have made the taller mushroom caps larger, but I was worried that they would block too much light.

I made eight marks on each circle to indicate where the wire framing would be attached. Like cutting a pie, I just marked halves, then quarters, then eights.  I cut one piece of wire to go across the length of the circle with some spare for the cap, then used that to make three more wires of the same length.

Using the markings I’d made, I used hot glue to secure the wire and stuck a slice of duct tape over it for good measure:

IMG_3942IMG_3943Once I’d attached all four wires, I held them all where they crossed in the center and hot glued the heck out of it to keep them connected in the center.  I also attached the dowel here to run down the center of the cap, which I’d cut to run a couple of inches longer than the height of the mushroom cap.

I laid the cap down over a sheet and cut around it, leaving an inch or two of excess around the pipe. Then, I hot glued the sheet by folding up the edge and gluing it to the inside of the hoop.  Once I was halfway through gluing the underside of the cap, I cut a small hole for the dowel to feed through.

Next, I propped the cap up so that I could attach the top fabric.  For the smaller one, I stuck the dowel through a hole on a milk crate, but the bigger ones wouldn’t stand up in the crate, so I used masking tape to attach them to a microphone stand. Then I draped fabric over the top: the two large mushrooms are felt, and the smaller one is muslin that I dyed green. Making sure the cap retained its “shape”, I glued the fabric to the top of the hoop.

Once it was glued in place, I carefully cut around the hoop with just enough overhang to wrap underneath.  Then I glued it along the underside and cut away any excess:


Making the Stems

The first step was to spray paint the duct connector. Be warned: this took me more than one can. I chose a tan color, but you could go with a darker brown, or green, or whichever color you’re feeling.

For the bases, I bought shelving braces, but they didn’t fit well on the 1″x2″ boards.  It was difficult to attach the braces using screws, so I ended up duct taping around them to hold them in place.  This was a workable solution on the smaller mushroom, but it definitely wouldn’t stabilize the taller ones.  Since I discovered this the week of the play, I searched the school for an alternative base and discover that we had some Christmas tree stands that did a fine job:

alice mushroom base

Left: shelf braces and duct tape. Right: Christmas tree stand

If you make these and plan to use a Christmas tree stand, make sure it will hold the 1″x2″. I found several bases in the school, but not all of them would fit the board.

Then I cut the air duct connector into two 10′ sections and a 5′.  I slid them over the top of the board before attaching the caps.

Assembling the Mushrooms

I’m sure there’s a better way to do this, but this is about how I did it, and I’m going to stay true to that. To assemble the caps to the stems, I lined the dowel up to the top of the board and duct taped the heck out of it. My rationale for this was twofold: it only needed to last through the week, and I was running out of time.

alice mushroom cap attachment alice mushroom cap underside
I left it overnight to make sure they would stand. Once they survived the night, I lifted up the air duct connector, taped it on the inside to the stem, and stapled it a couple of times to ensure it would stay up. If you look carefully at the top photo from the dress rehearsal, you’ll see that it did not stay up on the small mushroom, so make sure your stage manager has a roll of duct tape for last-minute repairs.

With the mushrooms fully assembled, we cloaked the bases with fabric scraps.
alice bare set with mushrooms

There you have it! If I’ve left anything out, please let me know and I would be glad to answer your questions. Again, I know that there are cooler giant mushrooms out there, but this is how I did it in a couple of weeks with a pretty small budget.

not forgotten.


It’s not that I’ve forgotten about this little corner of the Internet, even though it’s been increasingly obscured from view by slowly settling dust and cobwebs.  No, I’m reminded regularly by commenters, spam bots and human bots who post generic compliments with links to debt burden websites and nice things about how I need to start writing again, respectively.  And I’m reminded of my blog when, even though I haven’t posted to my former domain in seven months, it still garnishes a pretty nice annual summary from the WordPress stat bots:

I know… I’m pretty shocked, too.

Far from forgetting about my blog, I think of it often.  I’ve loved it here, chronicling my librarianism, articulating my thoughts, and sharing resources among peers, colleagues, and friends.  But I started to write a post inspired by this picture:

…and I decided that no one would want to read about an unfruitful job search any more than I wanted to write about it (which is not very much at all).  I still have a draft of a post about my first real job interview, but it’s been nearly four months and I have yet to glean any positive moral growth or insight from my rejection call from the principal, which was very polite with the exception of the phrase, “you’re a little bit too much of a yankee.”

Even though my library endeavors seem pretty bleak, I am not the least bit discouraged with my new life in North Carolina.  I wanted to shout from the mountain tops when I got a job that I am totally in love with, but I don’t want to steer my beloved little blog in a different direction, even though the two have some striking similarities (and notable differences).  And then I decided to take this opportunity to focus on my offline life, trading in my writing time for sewing projects, reading actual books (!), and hanging out with my dude.  After three weeks with no internet- thanks to some abhorrent customer service from my ISP- I’d abandoned my RSS feeds, and catching up on articles and posts isn’t a priority of mine for the time being.  I’ll come back to this life, and it’s still my absolute passion, but for now I’m viewing the slower pace as an opportunity to enjoy my fleeting youth before I step into my grownup shoes for good.  I’m eagerly anticipating my career as a librarian, but this past year has showed me that there’s no hurry (you know, except for the student loans, but I’m still in denial about all of that).

Thanks to all of the aforementioned peers, colleagues, and friends for being continually supportive and wonderful.  Your comments, cards, Skype sessions, Facebook threads, and care packages have helped me remember just how loved I am, even though I’m in faraway and unfamiliar territory.  I don’t know what the next year will bring for karen the librarian, or how often I’ll share it here, but I’m looking forward to all of it and hope that you are all as fortunate in this life of ours as I have been.

what you’ve been missing


At the end of another shift, I sat in the manager’s office, closing out my checks for the day.  Six weeks in, she inquired about my intentions: am I planning on sticking around, or am I actively seeking another job?

I explained that, yes, I am actively seeking another job.  While the lunch restaurant at which I’m currently waiting tables isn’t a bad gig, it simply isn’t enough to support me, especially after that dreaded day on which my student loans enter repayment.
“What if I can get you some shifts in other departments?”  She told me that she was happy with the work I do, and would get me into other restaurants and shops in our little village, if it meant that I could stay.
“I appreciate that,” I responded, “and I’d love to get some more work around here.  The bottom line, though, is that I am a librarian.  I’ve been working for years to get to this place.  I was born to be a librarian.”
She gave me a slight nod of something that looked like understanding as she paused.  When she spoke, I realized that she didn’t get it at all: “What if I got you part-time work at the bookstore?”
*     *     *
A few days later, I waited in the kitchen for the weekend brunch rush to pick up.  Among the kitchen staff, a food runner, and another server, the subject of my profession somehow came up.  True to form, it took about thirty seconds before they were all entertaining the thought of me, headstrong and goofy, shushing the masses in a dusty room full of books:
“Y’all won’t be shushing anyone.  You’ll be screaming at them to shut up!”
“Who needs books anyway?  They have these things called computers, ya know.”
“Do you wear contacts?  You’re gonna have to get yourself a big ol’ pair of glasses to push up your nose.”
After they squeezed in all of their good-natured jests, I looked around at my co-workers and asked, “When was the last time any of you even set foot in a library?”  Just as I’d suspected, none of them could recall visiting a library in the past year.
I realize that I am officially out of library school, and not yet hooked up to the Internet at my new place, and thus completely out of contact with all of my librarian buddies.  This is the best justification I can provide for my recent encounters relating to libraries: people just don’t seem to get what it is that a librarian does.  If people don’t understand who librarians are, they’ll likely think I’m crazy for devoting years of my life to being one… and imagine what they think when I get so excited about it!
I’m not offended that my co-workers think that I’m crazy; rather, it frustrates me that they have no idea what it is that libraries (and devoted staff) are good for.  When I encounter this, I take a moment to correct their perceptions and explain why I was born to be a librarian:
  • I’m good at solving problems, and I dig it.  As a librarian, I get to help other people solve their problems.  Loving what I do and helping people = awesome.
  • Libraries are not big, quiet vaults for storing ancient parchment and musty hardcovers.  Sure, there’s probably a section of archives around the building somewhere, but modern libraries are technological workstations, social outposts, collaborative environments, gaming centers, and, of course, a resource for information that’s infinitely more reliable than big internet search engines.
  • I’ve said this before, so I’ll say it again, verbatim:
    I know about a hundred future librarians who are working every day to shatter your preconceived notions of what librarianship is.  We’re not cardigan-wearing, pencil-in-the-hair, shushing types.  We are activists, fun-loving teachers, and technological whizzes who just happen to have an insatiable thirst for information and want to share that thirst with everyone – even though I’ve been known to wear a cardigan and put writing utensils in my hair.
  • No matter how radical I sound to you, I am not a pioneer of my field.  I love librarianship because it’s filled with smart, forward-thinking people who are moving the earth, one library service at a time.  Just today, in fact, I encountered several fabulous libraries/librarians who are doing delightfully cool things:
    School libraries who encourage cell phone use (courtesy of Rebecca, my classmate/hero)
    Libraries as cultural centers (thanks to James for this one)
    Library day in the life (some of the interesting projects that my clasmate/hero Erin gets paid to work on)
  • Unlimited access to free books!  There, I said it.  But being a librarian also grants me access to movies, new tech gadgets, social activities, cutting-edge computer programs, and a quiet study corner (should the need arise).  Oh, wait. I don’t need to be a librarian to get all of that stuff for free.  Anyone can take advantage of all that… imagine such a place!

I know that most of what I’ve just said is not new or original.  Aside from the personal anecdotes – and no one is reading for those! – everything in this post is reiterating someone else.  Who is paraphrasing someone else.  Who read it somewhere else.  It might sound like a game of telephone, but the message remains intact: if you’re one of the masses who assumes that I spent a semester honing my shushing, stop by a library and see what you’ve been missing.

If you’re not sick of hearing me go on about this, here’s the link to my library school f.a.q., which I wrote last year.  It has more about the MLIS program experience, and a little bit about librarianship as a career.

north carolina: a journey in photos


It’s hard to believe that it’s been a whole month since my life looked like this:

Everything I owned was jammed precariously into a “small” moving truck (as if such a thing exists!), and I was pretending that I wasn’t crippled by the terror that accompanied the thought of driving that monstrous vehicle over seven hundred miles of southbound roadways.  Luckily, though, I had a top-notch copilot:

She was there to provide good company, ample photographic documentation, and the GPS.  While she did an excellent job fulfilling two of these requirements, her GPS decided to take us on the adventurous route, which led to roads like these:

Ten hours into the trip, my copilot’s GPS, Elton, led us straight into an apartment complex in Waynesboro, Virginia.  Reminding myself that Elton was not my property to throw out the window and run over three or four times to ensure complete gadget death, I pulled up the maps app on my iPhone and channeled my inner MacGyver:

While my makeshift iPhone stand was truly a work of art, the rigid route that Google Maps provided wasn’t much more effective than Elton.  (note to self: get an atlas.)  Regardless, fourteen and a half hours after departing from the Sugarcreek by my copilot’s house, we finally managed to stumble our way, laughing and exhausted, into Chapel Hill.

Since my arrival, my days have consisted of working as a server in an interesting little community while sending my resumé to every library in a sixty-mile radius.  Now that my last certification exam is over, there’s only one box of stuff left in my living room, and I’m figuring out some basic navigational concepts of the greater Chapel Hill area, I’m starting to explore more.

Another big part of my daily life has been this:

I said I wouldn’t complain about the heat, so I won’t.  I’ll just let you imagine what I would say if I were to complain about the heat.

This area is pretty nice, aside from the one thing that I’m not complaining about, and I’ve nearly gotten used to being called a yankee.  My little town is somewhat reminiscent of Ithaca, New York, which is an abundant source of comfort.  The people are friendly and welcoming, and I’m really looking forward to becoming a part of the local culture.

Of course, I miss New York like crazy: my wonderful friends, kickball, Wegmans, the bike path by the canal, an understanding of the education system, my little librarian network of all the amazing people who helped me get to where I am today… I could go on for a while here.  But I’m also discovering all the good things that seem to turn up wherever you happen to go, and that makes the transition easier.

I’m immensely stoked to begin my career as a librarian, and I have faith that something pretty rad will come along soon.  Until then, I’ll be utilizing my new library card… a lot.

what i learned in grad school


Yesterday, karen the librarian turned two, which means that I started my WordPress adventure shortly before officially starting grad school.  I wrote my introductory post with all the enthusiasm and optimism that this brand-new life journey merited, and casually speculated on what exciting opportunities the future would have in store for me.

In six days, karen the librarian will be relocating to Chapel Hill, North Carolina.  After seven years and one recently-acquired MLIS, I’m saying goodbye to Rochester with the same enthusiasm and optimism.  Maybe it’s just my desperate attempt to put off packing, but I’ve been thinking a lot about those two years in between: what I’ve learned and who I’ve become.  Has graduate school prepared me for my next big adventure, otherwise known as real life?  This is an important consideration for me, but it’s also relevant to those who are considering an MLIS or are currently working toward one.

To gauge my librarian preparedness, I’ve come up with a few of the biggest things that rad school has equipped me with for this stage of my career:

  • Good networking is absolutely imperative.
    I’m not a fan of acknowledging that I use such cheesy buzzwords, but this is legit.  Whether you’re trying to complete an assignment, get a job, or help a patron, it really is all about who you know; the more contacts you make and maintain, the broader your pool of resources will be.  My mantra is, “I don’t know all the answers, but I do know where to find them.”  Emailing an associate or talking to a friend on Facebook has been my go-to resource more often than I can explain, and knowing an expert or two is just as valuable as navigating online databases.
  • I have the skills that good networking requires.
    Thanks to my experience as a distance learning student, I am completely comfortable with the whole networking business.  I’ve developed strong friendships with faraway classmates over social media, through which we’ve completed tough assignments, shared ideas, and bonded over the perils of grad school.  It also forced me to contact local librarians, begging for their guidance in my quest to fulfill fieldwork and practicum requirements.  I met many amazing librarians this way, and learned so much about how different libraries function.
    I’m already reaping the benefits of my recently honed networking skills: I’ve scoured library websites, sent emails, and followed Twitter accounts for relevant parties in my new neighborhood.  As weird as it seemed while doing it, I’ve already managed to score post-move coffee dates with North Carolina librarians.  Even though I don’t have a library gig lined up, I’m excited to become familiar with the scene down there and make some cool librarian friends.
  • As a school media specialist, lesson plans are the least of my concerns.
    For most of grad school, creating lesson plans was my biggest fear.  When I got into the actual teaching part, though, I felt foolish for letting those tiny monsters get to me so.  Lesson plans are very important, of course, but a school media specialist has so much more going on- budgets, meetings, resource management, inventory, ordering… et al.- that creating and executing lessons are the really fun part.  It’s really sort of like elementary school: everything is kind of fun, but nothing tops recess.  I wonder how many teachers are fuming because I just equated instructing with recess?
  • They weren’t kidding when they stressed the value of continuous assessment.
    All through my program, our professors focused strongly on the importance of recursive assessment of any system to ensure its effectiveness.  Well, professors, you were right.  Libraries are changing at an unbelievable rate, and it’s important to conduct frequent self-analyses to investigate the relevancy and effectiveness of a service or system.  Even this post is an assessment, because I’m taking careful note of what I’m doing well and what still needs work.
  • When you’re stuck on something, seek help.
    There’s a pretty good chance that whatever it is you’re doing has been done before.  Find someone who has already done it and, more often than not, he or she will be willing to provide advice and support.  This saved me hours of grief during grad school, and I have every intention of continuing this practice in the future.  Our library patrons do it every day when they walk in the door with a problem or a question… librarians should take advantage of their resources, too.
  • When someone else is stuck on something, offer help.
    There’s nothing wrong with a little good karma.  What’s the point of being good at one thing or another if you don’t use your expertise to help someone else?
  • Nobody really told me how important good marketing is.  I’m telling you this right now: good marketing is incredibly valuable.
    A well-planned marketing strategy can overshadow a meager budget, and a creative resumé can help set you apart from other job candidates.  I’ve been astounded to see the impact that a clever promotion can have on a library event.  On the flip side, poorly executed advertising can keep your service (or yourself) from reaching its fullest potential.
  • Believe it or not, coursework actually is worthwhile.
    When I was in the midst of creating my PMA (which can be found on the Program Administration page of my portfolio), I moaned and groaned at the process and wondered what benefit it was to me.  As I prepared the presentation of my document, it all came together and I could see just how much I’d accomplished through that assignment.  Graduate school is a lot of work, but it trained me to consider a lot of things that I would have otherwise glossed right over.  As it turns out, those graduate professors really know what they’re doing.  Strange!
  • Procrastination will inevitably hinder your success.
    Now, I’m not here to be giving anyone advice on how to study.  I believe that everyone just needs to figure out what works best for him or her and run with it.  But when it comes to distance learning, you have to stay on the ball.  Learn from my mistakes: putting things off will result in more than one missed deadline or misunderstood assignment.  If something is due at midnight, there is absolutely no chance that your professor will be checking his or her email at 8 p.m., and your insanely important question will remain unanswered.  Further still, there are a lot of little graduation and/or certification requirements in all different places, often with early deadlines.  Take it from a former procrastinator.  Repent!  Get organized right away, and keep up with it.

Of course, I could keep going here for a while.  When I take a moment to think about it, I’m downright impressed with my progress over the last two years.  Today, I am confident in my skills as a librarian, and excited to jump in and continue growing as a librarian.  I always said that I was in grad school for that piece of paper, but, as it turns out, I actually did get quite a lot out of it, thanks to my wonderful program and superb classmates and mentors.

Hello, friend!


Thanks for coming to hang out, and I apologize for the mess.  I’m working on a super site for k.t.l., and you’ve caught me in between coats of primer.  In the meantime, get your fill of my lesson plans and anecdotes over at the comfortingly familiar k.t.l. wordpress site.

See you soon!