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.

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.