Thursday, July 31, 2008

Five things I'm loving right now.

The mere idea of the Something Storemakes me happy. It's like a surprise present to yourself.

It could be anything. One person got an iPod shuffle, but I suspect most people get things that cost considerably less than the $10 per something price. They say that it'll probably be new, but that it possibly could be antique or refurbished or just about anything. I think we all need more beautiful randomness in our lives.

I've been rather dutifully slogging my way through Northanger Abbey. Yes, I'm still not done. It might help if I stopped reading other things for a while, but I can't help myself. I've been tearing through the His Dark Materials trilogy. Yeah, they're juvies. I read juvies sometimes. Just because a book is meant for a younger audience, doesn't mean it won't speak to someone of any age. The young girl character Lyra is so brave and bold. She makes me wish I had been her when I was younger, instead of the shy, reclusive bookworm that I was. I just finished book two of the three this afternoon and if I hadn't gotten home from my Girl Scout trip so late, I would have rushed off to the library to check out number three, the Amber Spyglass.

"Ice Cream" made out of coconut milk. I tried the chocolate last night and it is so good. I like it better than real ice cream, I think. This product from Turtle Mountain is dairy free, soy free, and sweetened with agave, to make it lower glycemic. Oh, did I mention, its really yummy. If I can still have ice cream, or rather, something like it, but better tasting even, then that makes it a lot easier to consider the vegan path.

I've been loving the website Cake Wrecks. It's seriously even more hilarious than the late, lamented blog "You knit what?!". No pictures here because I'm not sure of the copyright status of the pictures, but go visit and you'll see what I mean. Each time I read the blog, I start laughing so hard I get the hiccups. Just be warned that there are a couple of cakes of dubious taste towards the end of the page.

This video by Sigur Ros. It just makes me happy every time I hear the song. Even better to see the video. The band is from Iceland and I believe they sing in Icelandic. I've got not the slightest idea what the lyrics mean, but that doesn't seem to matter. I know, I can tell just from the sound of the song that its a song of joy and hope. This is the first time I've run across Sigur Ros, but they'll definitely be added to the playlist of my life. In a weird sort of way, they remind me of what I love about early Jane Siberry.

Sunday, July 27, 2008

Going vegan?

So we just checked out Vegan with a Vengeance from our local public library. We've been vegetarian in this house for a little while. For us, it's primarily an environmental thing. Simply put, growing animals to eat uses resources and adds to global warming. It's just another thing we saw that we could do, just like when we rearranged our lives to make it easy, we were able to give up our car and go car free.

But I've been thinking, what if animal products such as eggs and dairy are nearly as hard on the environment as meat. I've also read that some people consider the "vegetarian" stance to be ethically unsupportable, that the only way to be a real vegetarian is to be a vegan, because by their nature, the production of eggs and dairy leads to the creation and death of animals. Most chickens that stop laying enough go to the stew pot. Milk can only keep coming year round by the making of lots of calves and almost all of the males don't survive long.

I'm not certain. I do know that it would be pretty hard for me to go cold turkey vegan. I'm not overly fond of soy and sometimes don't feel well if I eat too much of it, so that limits how much tofu I can eat. And I'll be honest, after trying it several times, I really do loathe the taste of soy "milk". It's certainly easier to not worry about things like am I getting enough protein and other nutrients when I'm eating dairy and eggs. I love milk and cheese, the taste of them.

For the moment, I'm not going to give them up completely, but I have decided to try and eat far less of them. I'm going to try and always use oil instead of butter when cooking. I'm going to try and learn to drink my iced coffee black. And maybe I'll even learn to live without swiss cheese on my tempeh reuben. And I have to believe that the changes I've made to my diet are helping at least some, even if I do give into an omelet once and a while.

This beautiful photo of vegetables from a market in Helsinki was taken by the flickr user Philocrites. Isn't it just gorgeous? The rest of his photos are beautiful as well.

Thursday, July 24, 2008

Just a quick post. We went to the Art Institute tonight and saw this show. No pictures because you weren't allowed to take pictures in the exhibit. But I will say that my favorite work was this small sculpture of the Oba (Benin King) meeting Queen Elizabeth II and this pair of leopards. They're so cunningly crafted. Make sure you zoom on the picture to get a good view of the surface details, how they made the leopard's spots. I love the grin they seem to have, with their bared teeth.

The picture has nothing to do with the main topic of the post. I offer it as proof that I haven't been entirely idle. Click on the small photo to see it larger. The rolled edge and garter stitch are visible that way.

Sunday, July 20, 2008

The tastes of summer

Green beans for dinner tonight! We had green bean and couscous gratin. And I sauted the extra beans with some oil and garlic, just until the outside of some of them got a little crispy, kind of like they serve at the Chinese place. And of course, there was also zucchini. You gotta eat those up fast this time of the year, before they all grow up to be baseball bats. I ate plenty of baseball bat zucchini growing up as a kid. You know, that time of the year when it shows up in everything Mom puts on the table, in soup, ratatouille, stir fry, even hidden in quick bread. Yes, these are the tastes of summer.

Friday, July 18, 2008

I've really been loving the work of Lisa Congdon lately. If you haven't seen her latest stuff, you should check it out. She's just done a show of portraits of pigments, the real old pigments that they used before chemistry made producing all the colors so easy. I'm enormously fond of the Indigo portrait, but her Bone Black portrait is very strong and very graphic. Also, I love her malachite portrait.

I hope its okay for me to use this image for my post. I'm not sure of the copyright and etiquette issues here. it's just so beautiful I couldn't resist.

Thursday, July 17, 2008

Five things

eating: Peaches. We still haven't finished all the peaches that we bought at the farmer's market last Saturday, and it's just the start of the season thankfully. I know some are partial to Georgia peaches, but to me, the best will always be Michigan peaches, and that's what we get at our farmer's market.

thinking about: How am I going to arrange all my random pieces of art on the wall over my Chinese chest? It really intimidates me, especially when I all the amazing ways that people have done mixed arrangements of art. And it's not just these ones you see that have to go up on the all. They're hiding a whole other layer of prints. And the sweetest little Chinese screen I have with Japanese maples and a couple of little birds.

listening: Tegan and Sara- The Con. Where have they been all my life? I've needed a compelling new band to listen to and I've finally found it.

wearing: Every chance I get, I've been wearing my new dress by Jane Bon Bon. Well, not to my work, because I don't want to chance getting it dirty. But if you're a dress wearer at all, check out her etsy store. She's especially nice for the full-figured. Her specialty is the "braless dress". And she means it.



reading: Northanger Abbey. I'm not sure I like it. Catherine is not as foolish as Emma but nowhere near as sensible as Fanny Price.

Tuesday, July 15, 2008

A new project and indulgence for me

I bought the Tanglewood bag pattern and patch kit from Posy Gets Cosy

I'm really excited. And I'm a bit scared at the same time. It's not that I'm not an experienced sewist. I am. I've sewn for over twenty years now, making a lot of my own clothes at various times in my life. I've made full size bed quilts and covers for the cushions of my sofa.

But there's a lot of precision sewing going on here. The seams are going to have to be straight as a yard stick. Looks like that bias tape is going to require a steady and delicate hand. These are not my strengths as a sewist. I like the bold design and gesture. The aforementioned large quilt only looks good until you look closely at it and notice that not all of the triangle points meet up. A state fair blue ribbon winner it is not. Even now, after twenty years at the machine, my straight seams still have some wibbles and wobbles in them. I'm especially worried about turning the square patches into the patchwork fabric. The rest of it doesn't worry me so much. But if I don't get that first step right, no matter what I do, the rest of the bag will look wretched.

Still, I'm excited. It's one of the first cloth bags I've seen that I've truly been excited about. I can't wait to get my patch kit. I just hope I can find someone to hold my hand as I start it.

Picture above taken from the Posy Gets Cosy website.

Monday, July 14, 2008

Saturday's walk

I'm fortunate to live in one of the prettiest places around and Saturday, we got up early and went for a walk. I brought my camera and I've just downloaded the pictures. I thought I'd share a few of my favorites. It was early and bright enough that the shadows formed clear dapples on the sidewalk.

I don't know why I love this garden gate. I just do. I think maybe it reminds me a little of New Orleans. I've never been there, but I've always wanted to go and in my mind, it's full of iron work like this. So, rather than a Coney Island of the mind, I've got a New Orleans of the mind. I blame Anne Rice mostly.

I was happy to discover that one of the churches near me has a labyrinth. This labyrinth is a simplified Chartres. Have you ever walked a labyrinth? It's not a maze. So long as you stay on the path, you can't get lost. You wind in and out, turning and following the arcs of the circle until you get to the middle. Medieval cathedral builders would put a labyrinth, usually under the crossing so that people could do a sort of mini pilgrimage, even if they couldn't make the full trip to Jerusalem or other holy spots. We spent a few quiet minutes walking the labyrinth.

I'm obsessed with taking pictures of this bridge. I love the textures and colors that the rust has made on the green paint. The beams and girders give it such a gorgeous geometry too. This is just a railroad overpass. Metra trains, freight trains and the El all use it to pass through my town.

I came across a huge pot of the most gorgeous Elephant Ears. These are a tender annual in this area and most people just grow them in pots, rather than have to lift them out of the ground every year before frost. It always astonishes me how huge they can get in even just a month or so of summer. Again with colors of green and the geometric structure. I could stare at these leaves for hours.

I've always loved day lilies, or as we called 'em back home, ditch lilies. This house had a massive clump of them growing against the garage, the lilies floating above the strappy leaves like an orange cloud. But what were almost prettier than the lilies were the shadows they left on the siding.

Sunday, July 13, 2008

This is the tail end of a huge ball of yarn. There's about enough left at this point for one baby cap. I know this for sure, because by the time I'm posting this, I've made the cap.

I make baby hats for charity, I've made lots of them over the years and later I'll post more about a project I'm working on with them. But for now, about the yarn.

I feel particularly proud of this yarn because I made it. Well, sort of. It's reclaimed merino wool from a thrift store sweater. There's tons of instructions on how to do this all over the net, but basically you find a sweater that is fully finished, not serged together, which cuts the yarn and gives you lots of short pieces when you try and pull it apart. The you rip apart the seams and start unravelling. This can be kind of challenging when you have a young cat in the house.

Then, once it's all unraveled and you've skeined it up, you dye it with kool-aid. I love dyeing with kool-aid because it's about as non-toxic as dye gets. I mean, I wouldn't want to drink the stuff, but it's not bad for dye. In this case, the yarn was a truly uninspiring light mushroom gray. I over dyed it with red and blue koolaid, in a one to three packet ratio, using maybe sixteen packets for this huge skein. Make sure you get the little packs of kool-aid, not the kind with sugar or sugar substitute added already. Toss em in the pot with a bunch of water, set on the stove to heat up. For this batch, I added a little vinegar for acid, to see if that would help the color be more vibrant, but you don't have to. Kool-aid is totally acidic enough as is. Wash your yarn. Rinse it well. Make sure you use cool water, and don't rub the yarn at all. You don't want to felt it on accident. Then, toss the skein in the pot and simmer until the dye is all exhausted from the pot.

You can space dye and hand paint with koolaid too, but I like just plain kettle dyeing. It gives a very subtle kind of effect, showing that its a work of the hand, with lighter and darker areas. But you don't get the sometimes crazy contrasts and pooling of colors like you often see with a hand paint.

The thing I love best about this yarn is that you're recycling something that might well have gone to waste. There's so many old used sweaters in the thrift stores. Sometimes they get so many old clothes that they have to bundle them up and ship them to developing nations, which can wreck havoc on local, indigenous clothing and textile industries. And while you're not really killing a sheep to get it's wool, there can be an environmental impact from over grazing. Not to mention, yarn production, though it doesn't have to be, can be an industry that is a heavy water polluter.

Out of one men's sweater that was just going to go back to the thrift store I bought it at, I got one adult plus size shrug, a toddler size sweater and at least ten baby caps.

More about how baby hats can help save the world later.

Saturday, July 12, 2008

Okay, so I wouldn't go so far as to use the word bucolic to describe today, but I came close. I believe the word halcyon also slipped to the tip of my tongue once but didn't quite escape. In short, one of those summer days. The ones we all dream about in the middle of winter. You know, clouds doing the cotton candy thing, looking all impressive and threatening but never actually letting fly with the downpour. Even now as the sun is setting, the sky is that astonishing rosy color between apocalypse orange and refulgent pink. The color that no camera ever captures quite accurately. Just gorgeous really.

Oh, and it's also the days that I think of as the middle of summer. Before too long, we'll meander into the decline of Fall. It's the days that I start to feel panic. Am I making the most of this summer? Am I taking enough bike rides? Going to enough summer street fairs? Spending enough time at the beach? Eating enough zucchini and peaches? In short, am I living life to the fullest, stocking up the good times for the long, dull winter ahead? I think maybe one can never eat enough peaches, but the answer to the rest, for this summer at least is "maybe", instead of the "definitely not" of previous years.

I'll leave you with a photo I took at the start of summer.