How a busy family finds time to be creative — and sometimes silly
By limiting activities outside of school and work, the Kuo family opens up a space for creative possibilities
Shoreline's Kuo family displays the range of their artistic abilities.
PHOTO: JOSHUA HUSTON
If you ever have the pleasure of meeting the Kuo family, you will likely be gifted a homemade creation. This musically talented Shoreline family of four comprises Elena, Charles, Sam, 13, and Evelyn, 8. When they’re not filling their home with sweet melodies, you can find them busy at work on any number of whimsical projects.
Elena and Charles grew up in what Americans would call “crafty” families. Their parents, immigrants from India and Taiwan, respectively, would call themselves “makers.” Whether it was tending to a neighbor’s garden “just for the fun of it” or leaving secret handmade gifts on a neighbor’s doorstep, Elena and her parents were always trying to make someone smile.
Charles had an artistic bent as a child and remembers making papier-mâché and charcoal drawings with his mother, who was an art teacher before marrying his father. He also enjoyed creating framed art out of magazine and newspaper clippings.
This inherent love of making likely ignited the spark between Elena and Charles when they met in college. Together, they set up craft stations in their school’s quad during exam time as a stress release for their friends. They both enjoy cooking, and have fond memories of baking an ice-cream cake that turned out lopsided. Since it stuck to the mold, they had to use a blow dryer to melt it slightly before cutting into it. The cake tasted delicious all the same.
These days the two are busy parenting, working and volunteering. Elena is a research associate at the Center for Community Health and Evaluation. Charles is a stay-at-home dad and volunteer science and social studies teacher at Cascade K-8 Community School. Surprisingly, finding time for their creativity isn’t a problem.
“I don’t think you have to make time for it,” says Elena. “It’s part of daily life.” She and Charles value non-structured time; each member of the family is limited to no more than two activities outside of school and work. “If you have the time to dream and think, good things happen.”
Manifestations of their creative tendencies can be seen throughout their house. “We enjoy finding entertainment value and artistic beauty in everyday things,” says Elena. The kids draw faces on all sorts of household items, like kitchen spatulas and toothbrushes. “It makes you laugh every time you use it.”
Each member of the Kuo family has a special knack for something. Sam enjoys writing fiction and fantasy. He started Pizza Cat, a YouTube channel with step-by-step instructions for making DIY creations like dragon egg candle holders and edible chocolate bowls.
Evelyn is a budding engineer with a keen sense for spatial relations and form. She designs and constructs intricate fairy houses to fit under couches and between furniture legs, using repurposed household materials. Originally, they were intended as homes for real fairies. Now that she no longer believes in fairies, they’re just fun projects.
Charles combines his musical knowledge with his woodworking abilities to make guitars and ukuleles. “I am building a cello as a long-term project, but that is going to take years to complete,” he says. Before her arthritis kicked in, Elena was a talented musician. She plays the violin, marimba and sings.
“I think of everything in music,” she says. “I’ll even assign a pitch to the beeping sound the numbers on a telephone make. It’s how I entertain myself during a conference call.”
Recently, the kids crafted a wooden door opener and decorated compression gloves to help Elena with her arthritis. It’s one more way to make her smile.
In addition to their entertainment value, Elena and Charles view their projects as a way to model healthy risk-taking. “Our projects are silly but inspiring. The kids see us trying new things, which encourages them to try new things.”
Whether it be a planter Charles made in his woodworking shop, or a painting Elena created as part of her new endeavor into acrylics, so many Kuo family creations become gifts. “You don’t need that many crafts in your life,” Elena says, laughing. “I like to take things when we visit people.”
The Kuo family knows that in our fast-paced, high-anxiety world, it’s nice to be treated to something homemade that involves someone’s thoughtful time and effort. If they’re committed to creating, they might as well share their gifts.
Make dragon egg candle holders
PHOTO: JOSHUA HUSTON
Learn how to make dragon egg candle holders and other magical DIY crafts on 13-year-old Sam Kuo's YouTube channel.
Related: Places and events around Seattle to encourage your "maker" kid