Cleo Papanikolas is the mother of two boys Jack (8) and Niko (6) in North Berkeley. She is a painter, author, and illustrator, who has a blog called Cleo Made. I asked her about her favorite things to do with her Berkeley kids and here's what she said.
How do you like to spend time with Jack? Favorite activities with Jack usually include cardboard and tape. That boy never stops making things. Often they are things in which to put his brother, like a helicopter with a control panel. He’s also made a rainforest, trains, castles, and a full set of pretend electronic devices including a computer, iPhone, and iPad.
Where do you find these large cardboard boxes? Dumpster diving behind appliance stores and bike shops. Jack does most of the work with scissors, when he needs big cuts made, he draws a line and I use my mat knife.
A recent favorite project was the cardboard electric guitars. I started out making paper-mâché versions with the kids that they could decorate. Then I got carried away and made one to fit the old iPhone, and I wired it with a speaker! It is so much fun handing this to people and watching them choose some music and go crazy with the air-guitar.
That lead to his 8th birthday party: a rock and roll themed sleep-over. I got blow-up electric guitars, sunglasses and sequined ties from Oriental Trading Company. We cranked up the music and they went crazy.
How about your younger son? Niko likes baking and making experiments. Experiments are liquid mixtures of ingredients usually found in the kitchen: flour, spices, juice, etc., and finished off with food coloring and an Alka-Seltzer tablet for the bubbling effect. If I’m out of Alka-Seltzer, vinegar and baking soda works too. It’s fun to pour the mixture into a clear plastic bottle and watch it separate. I did just make a rule about “no oil in the potions” because it is hard to clean up. But the oil does make the best layers.
Where do you like to eat out as a family? Genki at Cedar and San Pablo is our old favorite stand-by. But we are so excited about Stella Nonna; we went to their soft opening and it is going to be great for families.
How do you like to spend time on the weekends? Bike riding. We have a “Xtracycle.” It’s one of those bikes with the extended back end so the kids can sit on the back. Although, they can ride their own bikes now, it’s still fun. You can get all the family style bikes at Blue Heron Bike Shop. It's just off the Bart bike path. We like to ride down to Sketch ice cream for treats, and then over the University overpass, and to the playground at Aquatic park. Another ride is along the Bart tracks to Solano Ave. Then down 2 blocks to As You Wish frozen yoghurt.
What do you do when school is closed on a weekday? Playdates with a handful of boys running around the paths in the woods at John Hinkle Park. Or family walks to the waterfall just north of Codornices park.
Tell us about a favorite Bay Area day trip: We often head out to Rodeo beach and then hit In-N-Out in Marin on the way home. But since my husband and I are both locals, we usually go visit family or friends.
How do you like to spend Mom-alone time. I have a Sunday morning walk with my neighbor. We live in the flats, so we walk to Peet's, either on Solano or Vine, and then point to a spot at the top of the hills and say, “Lets go there!” We try to take as many of the pathways that cut between streets as possible, and discover new ways each time. I also like to wander around shopping districts. I get a lot of ideas for things to make on my blog, by looking at what other people are making. The best ideas come when I’m looking at something that might seem unrelated to my type of art. The theory is to keep your mind actively creative, without trying to hard to be derivative, or force inspiration. For example: I see a book I admire, and then get an idea to make a bookmark. And I like to take classes at Castle in The Air, and Makeshift Society.
What are the kids doing while you are wandering for inspiration? While I am having my free time, my husband often takes the kids visiting. He is partner at Norheim and Yost commercial real estate. So he has a lot of clients, that are now friends and local business owners. The three of them ride around and check in on different shops and offices, just to chat and keep up. The kids return with a collection business cards, sugary things, and all kinds of cast-off things that people love to give to children. He’s also a Cub Scout leader, so that gives me some free time, and the kids love all the activities.
What are you working on now? Every week on the Tiny Paintings Project I give away a postcard-sized piece of art, with instructions for a DIY project using the art. Lots of the projects are fun to do with kids, although I’m not supposed to say that because many include choking hazards, so use your best judgment. The Tiny Paintings Project is a testing ground for what will eventually be craft kits for sale on etsy, and a book. So I love to hear feedback on the projects.
Thanks so much, Cleo!
You can find Cleo at any of these places online: