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Tuesday, December 30, 2008

Hey there, faithful readers...

I am debating moving this blog to a different host. That would mean that my site address and feed address would change.

So, I have a question for my friends who use a news reader or other RSS feed source to keep up with the blogs you read: how often have you had to/been willing to update your feed reader settings to follow a favored blog to a new feed? Just curious.

And, here's another question for my friends who are also bloggers. Have you ever moved your blog from one host to another? Got any tips? Any horror stories? I'd love to hear your thoughts!

Monday, December 29, 2008

New Year, New Studio

2008 has been, well, something, hasn't it? To say nothing of political dramas and global economic panic, for me this year brought a big job change. My new job is emotionally and intellectually challenging, stimulating, draining, and rewarding all at once. And yet, now that I have settled into my new, more demanding job, I seem to have more energy at home for my design and craft projects than I have in years.

Still, I have fretted over the last few months about the ceaseless packing and unpacking of tools and materials that I've been forced to do because my "studio" and my dining room have been one-and-the-same.

It was all brought to a head on Christmas morning, as we began preparing to welcome a most excellent house guest this weekend. I had packed up all my crafty bits and stuffed them into my husband's upstairs office for the umpteenth time in order to ready the house for our families. As I surveyed the damage and the 2 square feet of remaining unspoiled floor space, I realized that in a few short days I would be inflating an AERO bed in the same space. Hm. What to do? But I didn't really have time to think about it, as family began streaming in. It was only the next day, when I thought back on our excellent Christmas Day (the near totality of which was spent by each of us in pajamas!), that I realized not one of us nor our guests had set foot in the sunroom directly off of the living room, in spite of the fact that it had plenty of nice spots for sitting in the sunshine. And I thought some more. And realized that the sunroom has doors that can be closed. I made a silent deal to reclaim the space for myself.

A little while later, I published this silent deal to my husband who was wholeheartedly for it. Score!

I went to work that afternoon space planning, trying to maximize the stuff we already have. And now that tables have been moved, usb ports have been plugged in, sofas have been rearranged, rugs have been swapped, and a piano has been relocated sans hernia, I can't believe we didn't do this sooner.



There are still a few things left to do. We've lived here 2.5 years, and I have still never put curtains or blinds on the downstairs windows (They leak! That's a good excuse, no?). But now I feel like I'm working in a fishbowl, so I am getting motivated. Unbleached muslin is $3 a yard and will make a perfect blank canvas, I think. So that's easy enough. One of our favorite pieces of art, a collage done by a friend's second grade class 5 or 6 years ago, is no longer perfectly centered over the piano, but I think I'm leaving it where it is and will just add some other inspirational bits on its side to balance out that wall. The drop-leaf table that was just sort of taking up space in our living room is now a great, big workspace; and when it's time for company, the front leaf drops down and can conceal about 24 cubic feet of stuff!

Did I mention I get to keep the couch in my office? How fancy is that?

I think I'm gonna like it here.

Wednesday, December 24, 2008

Last Minute Gift: Free 2009 Printable Calendar

**HI, TIPNUT FOLKS! - Since I posted this, my web site address has changed, so if you click on the downloads here, they may not work properly. Come on over to my new site, and you can grab the files HERE!**

So, if you are like me, a couple of things are true for you today. 1) You are committed to giving handmade this year; and 2) you are in a panic because 3) you just realized you forgot about your sister-in-law or your third cousin; and 4) the person you forgot will be at your house within the next few hours.

What to do?! What to do!?

How about a lovely calendar? 2009 is almost here, after all. And though your local Big Box Bookseller™ will probably have loads of very nice ones to choose from, there's still time to make your own.

So here's my gift to you, Internet: A downloadable, totally free PDF calendar for 2009!

Each page features a wee illustration by moi and is 95% likely to have the correct dates on every page--what a bargain, no?

And, hey, even if you are morally and practically superior to me, and you have been finished preparing for the holidays since October, perhaps you've been neglecting yourself. Maybe YOU need a snazzy new calendar for your wall.

Putting this little guy together is a snap:
  1. Print the calendar on nice heavy-weight cardstock.
  2. Cut down the center of the calendar (at 4.25" to be exact).
  3. Fasten the pages together with a tiny binder clip or punch two wee holes at the top and "sew" the pages together with festive yarn or floss.
That's it!

If you print the calendar as a gift or keep it for yourself, I'd love to know--just drop by the comments to this post, and tell me what's what. While you're at it, you could make me feel better by telling me your worst last-minute crafter-disaster!

Cheers!

Tuesday, December 23, 2008

Seamlessly!

A few people from the Spoonflower Flickr group have asked how I tile my seamless patterns and whether I have any tips for seamless patterns. Well, I do it based on the way other people who have shared their great tutorials on the subject do it; add to that a dash of my own discoveries through trial and error.*

I use Adobe Illustrator for turning my designs into seamless tiles. I would use Adobe Illustrator to cook my food and vacuum my floors if I could figure out how. (I bet there's a tutorial out there...) The Spoonflower folks have also recommended several free graphics programs that may do most or all of the same things I am going to describe here.

Basically, a seamless pattern relies on the same principles that MC Escher used to create his stunning tesselations: if you take something away from one edge, you have to add it back to the opposite edge. So, here's a simple starting tile for a Christmas tree pattern:


But we're getting ahead of ourselves. There may be a speedy way to create seamless patterns, but I haven't found it. I usually decide how big I want the pattern repeat to be BEFORE I have all the designs put together--otherwise, with a set of complex shapes like the concentric circles (below), it's hard for me to backtrack to figure out what the repeat should be (does that make sense?) unless I just make it bigger than what I already have, which means there's a lot more space to fill and a lot more designing to do. And most of the time, when I choose the size, it is in either half or whole increments of inches or in multiples of 50 or 100 pixels. More about this later.

Back to our tile. You see that the Christmas tree on the top over-hangs the edge of the square exactly as much as the tree on the bottom invades the square. And although I have been known to eyeball alignment correctly down to the pixel (I claim to have a laser level built into my brain), I don't leave anything to chance, because even the slightest mis-alignment can lead to yucky seams running through your work.

There are a couple of ways in Illustrator to ensure that the alignment of any objects that extend past the tile shape's borders is perfect. You can use the "Transform" live effect to make a copy of your design element and move it a set distance. This is where having predetermined a nice round number for the size of your tile can make your life easier. If you have a tree on one edge of a 2-inch square and you need to make its twin on the opposite edge, you would just enter "2 in" in the distance box and you're good to go.

That's probably the better way to go--there are whole tutorials about using the Transform effect to speed up your work. Here's one I highly recommend.

Still, that's not how I do it. Once I decide on the size of my tile, lets say 400 pt, I go into the Preferences panel, to General. In the Keyboard Increment option, I put "400 pt." Then I can draw a shape that overhangs one edge, select the shape, click "option-downarrow" (or alt-downarrow for you Windows people), and there's a perfect copy of my shape 400 pts from where it started. Snazzy, no?

I don't think we'll be winning any awards for this tile, but you get the picture, yes?

I don't think there's any right or wrong way (we could have a heady discussion about the file size benefits of symbol instances versus copies, but, um, no thanks). I like my way because I never leave my keyboard for my mouse. I mostly make patterns in a semi-reclining state on my Mac laptop. When I do work at my husband's iMac with the Wacom tablet, I might be more inclined to use the Transform method because the mouse is better. Just depends.

When I'm working on a more complicated pattern, once I have decided how big the repeat will be, I start working in an organic way, placing things where I think they'll look nice, not worrying about the edges of my square. Then I go back and make sure that each overhanging shape has a twin on the opposite edge. This can get complicated when you have a lot of shapes layering over one another as in this loony design:


Finally, a couple of tips:
  1. Did you know that you can make a repeating pattern tile in Illustrator out of a rectangle instead of a square? Makes for a nice change of pace sometimes.
  2. Stand back from your pattern and squint. If all you really see are imaginary square lines connecting your shapes, you probably have more work to do.
  3. Consider designing your patterns for a half-brick or half-step repeat--in these, the alignment of the shapes along the x- and y-axis, respectively is off by 50% of the total size of the shape. So that means that your repeats are more like diamonds than squares.
  4. Consider, without allowing yourself to become obsessed or depressed by the fact that there are, in fact, as many as 17 (SEVENTEEN!) symmetry types upon which you can base a repeating pattern. For most of these, Illustrator's handy pattern swatch will not do the trick without some manual manipulations on your part (you will need to rely on the Transform Effect, which can handle x- and y-axis reflections and rotations, too). There is also a pattern plugin available for Illustrator that can generate all these types of symmetry. But I think that takes all the fun out.
I hope that helps a bit. I'm happy to answer more questions related to seamless vector patterns. Just leave them in the comments, and I will answer them for everyone on the blog whenever I can.

*Also see Rachel Galloway's very detailed posts on designing fabric for Spoonflower at her Mamma Made blog.

Wednesday, December 17, 2008

Her First 29th Birthday

I Want that Wednesdays will be back with a consumerist vengeance next week.

Today what I want is to be able to give my baby sister a squeeze. But I'll have to wait till she gets home on Christmas Eve.

Happy Birthday, sistah! I am so glad you were born!

You know that saying that the cobbler's children have no shoes? That's sort of like being the crafty girl's sister. I have bunches of projects in various stages of completion designed with my sister's precise aesthetic (and it is precise!) in mind, but her birthday falls so close to Christmas (my DIY-binge-procrastination apogee) that I am always last-minute finishing her gifts. Roll into this the fact that she lives in New York and that I, alas, do not, and the last-minute thing really does not work. So she always gets shorted on her birthday, and then I try to lavish her as soon as she gets off the plane at Christmas. Which often means wrapping presents in the car on the way to pick her up or see her at my mom's house.

So. If you're ever in my car and you wonder what the hell the tape is doing there in the back seat, it's a good bet I was wrapping a last-minute gift with it. Last year. I don't have as good an explanation for the single flip flop or the random lamp shade. What?

Anyhoo, being my sister's sister is a great privilege full of surprises (not the why-is-there-a-random-lamp-shade-under-the-car-seat kind--the really good, i-had-no-idea-this-is-how-cool-you'd-turn-out kind) and laughter.

Plus? 29? Totally a prime number. And that's just cool.

P.S. I was going to use this opportunity to plug my sister's lovely Etsy shop, but she's gone and sold nearly everything she had listed (including the necklace I was eyeing--drat!), so I'll wait till she puts up some new stuff in the new year...

Tuesday, December 16, 2008

Rudolph the Red-nosed Christmas Tree

So, by now I am sure you know how to make a covered button thumbtack or magnet. If not, see the excellent, super easy thumbtack tutorial here.

I whipped up this little tree while thinking about the limitations on christmas decorations presented by my sister's New York apartment and her naughty cats.

For this little project I used scraps of one of my Spoonflower fabrics and a piece of felt I had lying around. I used 3/4" covered buttons, but if I had had great big ones I'd have done that in green with teeny-tiny wedding-dress-sized red ones wedged between. I am going to search through my fabric stash for something to be a tree trunk, but in the mean time, I think this is kinda cute.

Monday, December 15, 2008

Something Shy of a Tutorial

Well, I really, really wanna show you, the Internet, what I did this weekend. Not the part where my entire diet on Sunday consisted of chocolate chip cookies. The other part. Where I made something really, really cool. I want to, but I have to wait because, of the six people who read this, four are likely to receive said nifty thing or a variant as a gift this year.

Instead, I have decided to show you a couple of other things. These are not so much tutorials as suggestions for things you may have forgotten you already knew or something, right? What I mean is that if you already have the tools for these things, you should be good to go; if you do not already have these tools, I don't anticipate a run on the craft stores at the end of this post. You follow?

So. I believe I have mentioned here before the awesomeness that is the Xyron laminating machine. I have a big one (a 900?), which, aside from laminating 8 1/2 x 11 sheets of paper can make stickers and magnets from all sorts of things you find around the house. I think most people who have these are really into scrapbooking. Me, not so much. I have never so much as "scrapped" a page. Just not my thing.

I digress.

Nifty Thing #1: Snowflake Magnets

Among the myriad cool things about the Xyron is that you are not limited to using it with paper. I've used fabric, cork sheets, lace, and even tinfoil! Yes, tinfoil. So the first wee thing I thought I would show you is that you can make cute little snowflake magnets with your Xyron.
  1. Rip off some tinfoil.
  2. Run it through the Xyron with a magnet cartridge
  3. Use cute snowflake punches to make snowflake-shaped magnets. Push hard. Those suckers take elbow grease!
I made a bunch of these, and they look sweet scattered on the fridge or dishwasher. I also made a colorforms-esqe christmas tree with tiny hole-punched red magnets for my little boy to decorate--it's cute-ish but not ready for primetime.


Nifty Thing #2: Patterned Tape

Over the last year or so, I have seen cute patterned tape promoted in lots of places. People in whose taste I put a fair amount of stock positively swoon over it. It's cute as an idea, but I just don't use that much tape. Am I doing something wrong?

Anyway, my minimalist tape habits notwithstanding, I do think there are some cute applications for this stuff, but I wanted more flexibility. And to not pay like $10 for a roll of tape. Enter: tissue paper. I have been known to stockpile swell printed tissue paper. Like all things flat, I have run it through my Xyron. And I have discovered that if you cut it into strips, you get neato patterned tape!

  1. Cut off some tissue paper.
  2. Run it through the Xyron using an adhesive cartridge, being careful, if you are neurotic like me, to keep it from wrinkling on the way in.
  3. Slice your sticky tissue paper into strips (I used a rotary cutter with a pinking blade. Because, why not?)
Et voilà! I have only done this with the permanent adhesive, but it might work just as well or better with the repositionable flavor. Although the adhesive does give the tissue paper a little more strength, it is still fragile stuff, so don't use it to secure packages in the mail. I used it today to seal boxes of cookies I took to the sherrif's deputies at the courthouse. Because, you know, they are really at the center of the patterned tape demographic.

The Thing Where You Start to Feel Better About Yourself

It is the holiday season, a stressful time for many. A time when people can feel frazzled and inadequate. Well, consider the feeling of superiority about to wash over you a Christmas gift from me to you. I took some pictures tonight of my workstation. Which is to say my dining room. I am an itenerant crafter--I have to pack up all this junk every few days to let real life happen around our house, so clear plastic bins are what pass for organization. And because I have the attention span of a drunk mosquito there are always somewhere between three and ten projects in various stages of completion strewn around the room and lots of empty plastic storage bins. Also, in the shot where you can see into my kitchen, you can see that I have conceded the battle to keep crap off of the refrigerator, a battle which I waged successfully until my son started bringing home drawings from school (thus my embrace of seasonal magnets in this post).

I keep thinking that if I just had a space where all my stuff could be spread out it wouldn't be such a mess, but my husband says that there is no such thing as a room to contain my projects. I guess he is leaving out the padded alternatives. He must really love me.

Saturday, December 13, 2008

Why am I thinking about re-decorating my son's room at 6:55 on a Saturday morning? I could be working on the huge custom order I have to finish before December 25. Or I could be trying out prototypes for my handmade Christmas gifts. Wait! Here's an idea...I could be sleeping. Yeah, no dice.

So, redecorating the room. He will be three in four months. Which means that I am going to be forced sooner rather than later to concede that he is no longer a baby. Further complicating the emotional trauma associated with acceptance of this fact, I am facing a stylistic dilemma. Kids don't sleep in cribs forever. Especially not kids at the top of the height-weight charts.

When we move Mr. Kid to a big boy bed there will be sheets and comforters and things that will need to be handed down, made, or bought. All of his baby bedding was bought by a group of my friends, one of whom had a 40% discount at Pottery Barn at the time. I know, I know, Pottery Barn. But, I tell you, farm animals! Quilting! What is not to love? In fact, nearly three years later I am still in love with it and will be so sad to take the quilt down from the wall. But it really is a baby-ish item for a very kid-ish kid.

So what now? The problem is not a lack of inspiration. It's a lack of commitment. (I know. We've discussed this before.) The list of things I'd like to incorporate includes, but is not limited to:
  • solar system bedding from Land of Nod--the colors, the quilting, the humor (commemorative former planet Pluto pillow? Come on!) are all there. I have been coveting this bedding since I saw it more than a year ago.
  • this airplane illustration I did based on the plane ("Little 372") my great-grandfather built with his students at Clemson University*
  • a reproduction map of "Folkloric Peking" from 1936 brought to Mr. Kid from China by one of my co-workers--he pores over it at length, looking for the rickshaws, asking "what dey are doing?" in the Forbidden City, and trying to find Africa.
  • dinosaurs, because, ROAR!
  • some of Mr. Kid's dad's paintings--I think kids should be exposed to abstraction early. Especially if they're gonna make it in this family.
Individually, each of these things could be the starting place for a nice, clean, simple theme. But I'm just not one of those dwell modern parents who can have an all white room with two letterpressed cards in frames, an eames chair, and a cashmere polkadotted blanket that the kid will somehow never throw up or pee on. I am in awe of those people,** but I'm not one and I am finally comfortable enough with myself that I don't want to be. Still, I don't want to just throw a bunch of things I like together and, because I can't edit all my impulses, end up with something that looks cluttered. In my experience as a messy person, it is much easier for mess to get out of hand in a room whose design is cluttered. I want it to be easy for the kiddo to play and have a good time and feel at home in his space and still be able to clean it up in a hurry with a minimum of tears.

So as I'm trying to edit the above list of inspirations, I can see a theme of exploration/adventure emerging. Which is very cool in theory but cuts across my actual preference that my kid stay inside away from bugs, snakes, and other deadly pursuits until he is 30.

Thoughts? Advice?

*I get a lot of my crafty/engineering bent from my great-grandfather, who died the year I was born. I'm going to be writing more about him and about Little 372 soon.

**I have a question. You know those people--the ones with the houses that look like perfectly curated modern boutiques? Do they not have relatives who give them snowglobes from Myrtle Beach or Dora the Explorer sheet sets? If so, where is the closet where they put that crap, and can I have a corner?

Wednesday, December 10, 2008

I Want That Wednesdays #5

Oh precious CMYK, I still love you, but I think we should see other colors.
This week I want something that I am pretty sure does not yet exist but that I think, based on my, ahem, expansive understanding of print engineering,* is entirely do-able.

I want an inkjet printer that prints spot colors. At home. I want to print in white ink on black paper. In gold on silver. And I am willing to make some concessions in return.

See, my understanding is that opaque white and metallic inks have fairly large particle sizes, particles which will clog up the sprayer nozzles on your home inkjet. But isn't that just because your personal inkjet has become so advanced that it can print like 1440x1440? Which, for the record is more than 2 million dots per square inch.

So what if people like me were willing to sacrifice photographic dpi for the flexibility of printing in opaque pigmet inks, dare I say, in Pantone spot colors? I'd happily accept something more like 144-300 dpi. I think with the evaporation of the gocco as a home printing alternative there is a small but potentially mighty market out there for an alternative to screenprinting and letterpress. Of course, it would get cost prohibitive to offer every color in the Pantone spectrum as a dedicated spot color cartridge. But I'd be happy with 24 or so colors!

Who's with me?!?

*I grew up in a print shop when xerography was the apex of print technology. Oh. And ten years ago I wrote a buying guide to commercial printing services for small business owners for my job at a now-defunct tech boom startup. That makes me an expert, right?

I'll Take an Egg with That

The egg looks sort of like a dollop of whipped cream here. That's not far off...
Friends, aren't little children supposed to hate eggs? Aren't they supposed to run and cry "ew, gross!" when confronted with a runny, yellow yolk?

Maybe I need to try the whole pairing-lettuce-with-a-favorite-food thing with eggs instead of strawberries. Sweet Fancy Moses, people! The kiddo loves an egg product--any egg product. Quiche filled with spinach? Check. Omelets full of otherwise forbidden vegetables? Check. Runny poached eggs on pasta? Check.

What? You've never put a poached egg in pasta? Oh, please, please, please run right out and try this! You will not be sorry.

I make a kind of stand-by pasta dish which is a grown-up version of buttered noodles (adapted from Mario Batali's bavette cacio e pepe, a staple at his restaurant Lupa--do not punish yourself by missing his restaurants because you are too cool for school--they rock!) and which I adapt to whatever I have in the house: pasta, pecorino romano, pepper, olive oil, and butter to which I might add toasted breadcrumbs, roasted cauliflower, cavolo nero (God has never made a better tasting green thing!), shrimp, pancetta, olives, capers--you name it, I've added it.

Tonight I was feeling like being healthy, so I used spinach and roasted cauliflower and eased up on the butter. And then at the last minute, I got a decadent impulse, and I poached an egg for each of us. Heaven. As soon as you get your steaming bowl of noodles, you mush up the egg so that the runny yolk oozes out into your pasta and makes a thick, delicious sauce that even butter can't hope to match. It's like carbonara without the public safety warnings.

Is it bad that we ate two hours ago and I am still salivating?

Tuesday, December 9, 2008

Merry Fishmas


We are slowly, veeeerrrry slowly, decorating around the house for Christmas. I have seen shiny ornaments dangled from chandeliers to far greater effect than is on evidence here, but my "chandelier" is an ugly piece of junk that my spec-house builder spent $69 on at Lowe's, so, you know, domino this ain't. (Note how I have deftly edited around the chandelier for this pick in a bid to deny its ugly existence.) Still, I'm pretty happy with the way this turned out. It also helps to make my (still deftly unpictured) chandelier not seem so freakishly far above the table. The cheapo fixture came with only enough chain to hang it at a proper length in a house with 8' ceilings. Our downstairs has 9' ceilings, so it's like the clamdigger of chandeliers. Lovely.

Pizza Night

So, faithful reader (Hi, Momma), I could try to impress you. But I won't do that. I'm gonna tell it to you straight.

Here at Casa del Cottage, pizza is a frequent menu item--it represents three or more food groups in every slice, requires no silverware (unless my dad is eating--he uses a fork and knife on fried chicken. Really.), and can be prepared with a minimum of effort on a weeknight.

Minimum of effort? What about proofing the yeast, and letting the dough rise, and simmering the sauce for hours?

Yeah, that's right. Frozen pizza. Oh, I still have my flour-crusted notebook from a certain Puckish restaurint containing said restaurant's famed dough recipe. And it is a damned fine recipe. And I make it from time to time. But not on a Tuesday.

Since giving in to frozen pizza about a year ago, I have tried every brand of "natural" or "organic" pizza available in our town. (Along with the occasional Tombstone with pepperoni, but only when my husband buys it.) Hands down, my favorite is the store brand from Whole Foods. Three reasons: it has a really good crust (medium thickness), features excellent toppings (in about 6 different styles), and is cheap, to boot! Now, it's not a large pizza, so I usually do one of two things to supplement: either add sliced chicken sausage or shrimp for some extra heft or, as I did tonight, make a tasty salad.

The kiddo, of course, is anti-salad, so tonight I thought I would try a new tactic. I put one of his favorite things on earth, strawberries (Out of season, yes, I know. I'm only human.) in the salad. I told him he could only have the strawberries if he ate some lettuce. Shows how much he likes strawberries. No salad, no way. His loss.

I marinated the strawberries in balsamic vinegar that was brought to me from Italy two years ago and is aged to a near syrup consistency. Yes, please. Tossed that with the salad greens. Topped with goat cheese. Seriously? Why did I even make the pizza? The only thing that would have made the salad better would have been 1) pistachios, because, come on, PISTACHIOS!, and 2) no freakin' cilantro in the greens mix. WHO PUTS CILANTRO IN MESCLUN MIX? Gah. No. Me. Gusta. Cilantro. Anyhoo, once I removed the offending greenery, it really was a lovely salad.

The best thing about this little meal is that it gave me more time to talk to my kiddo. We only have about two hours together every night before he goes to bed, and I can get so absorbed in cooking that I am not much company for him. It's a tricky thing to navigate because, of course, I cook for our family because I want us all to be well-nourished and healthy, but part of being nourished is being attended to emotionally, and so my tendency toward overwrought multi-course feasts is sort of counter-productive when I spend an hour or more cooking a dinner we will sit together to eat for less than 20 minutes.

Hooray for letting go! Hooray for pizza!

Monday, December 8, 2008

M&J Blog

How am I just learning that M&J Trimming has a blog?

I was looking for DIY Christmas Tree projects (yeah, I want to make my own Christmas tree. I have an idea for one from reclaimed branches, but I lack the engineering prowess to make it happen.) This is the cute project that brought me to M&J's blog.

Saturday, December 6, 2008

Under my Thumbprint

I was talking with a co-worker* yesterday who has a daughter the same age as my son. She said that she had decided last year to start a Christmas tradition with her daughter of decorating cookies. She is way more brave than I--there is no way I would have done kitchen play with my kid before about six months ago, but now that they are doing some things like that at school, I'm more excited about it. It's not that he can't handle it--it's me. I am sooo uptight and nervous, and I have been known to be, as has been previously noted here, a bit of a symphonic cook--tons of ingredients, multiple methods--which doesn't really lend itself to cooperative cooking with a toddler.

But yesterday, inspired by my co-worker's sunny enthusiasm, I told my son that he and I were going to do something special today. He got a choice: children's museum or making cookies. It is clear that these were not evenly matched alternatives, and I had stacked the deck in favor of empty caloric consumption. Obviously, he chose making cookies.

We got a very late start this morning (thanks, husband's holiday office party!), but eventually our list was made, our pajamas were retired, our shoes were laced, and we made our way to the grocery store. My list reflected a grand vision for three types of cookies (chocolate chip, sugar, wedding) all whipped up in one morning. By the time we got home it was after 11 AM. Since the whole family had to be at a party at 1 PM, I had to revise my expansive plans. As I was pulling out all the ingredients, I decided to chuck all the other recipes and make a jam thumbprint cookie recipe from Cooks Illustrated.

I spent an entire summer overseeing and preparing a dessert menu at a well-regarded Los Angeles restaurant. Which is shocking, given that I have an almost constitutional opposition to measuring ingredients. See where this is going?

Okay, so Mr. Kid and I got started. I measured (!) the dry ingredients and he stirred them with his mini-whisk. I creamed the butter (cold, not room temp as indicated by the recipe) and the sugar. Just as I'm getting ready to add the egg, I look back at the recipe and, it says "cream cheese." Yeah. I don't have any cream cheese. Because I never planned to make this recipe. And also, I didn't read it before I started. (Life metaphor, anyone?) So. We improvised. I found some whole milk greek yogurt in the back of the fridge with a March '08 expiration date. So that's, like practically cheese, right? The recipe called for 6 T of cream cheese, so I just sort of eyeballed half the container of yogurt, dumped it in, flipped the switch and hoped for the best.

While all of this is going on, Mr. Kid is getting more and more enthusiastic in his stirring, and I am admonishing him on a roughly second-by-second basis not to spray flour all over the kitchen. Finally, realizing that the combination of cold butter and weird, wet yogurt products is never going to result in a smooth, "creamed" texture, I let Mr. Kid start pouring the flour into the mixing bowl, and it came together surprisingly well.

The recipe calls for 1 1/2 tsp balls of dough per cookie. Ok. Why can't the ball be the size of a spoon I actually have? Screw that. So I eyeballed it (shock), and we made balls about 1 inch in diameter. I think I need to do more clay play, because Mr. Kid was pretty flummoxed by whole notion of shaping the dough into balls. But he didn't seem offended when I reshaped them for him, so disaster was averted there.

Now, for the thumbprints, the recipe eschews, you know, thumbs, in favor of the back of a measuring spoon. I have to say, I kind of liked that part of the recipe, so after some power struggles over who was going to do the smashing of the balls and who was going to do the ineffectual "helping," we ended up with 16 pretty good looking dough balls. These cook for 10 minutes before you pipe the jam in. Did I mention that I didn't have any raspberry jam or preserves? You know, kinda the sine qua non for jam cookies? No worries, I had some strawberry preserves. I don't even really like raspberries, so this was one of those happy accidents.

During the first 10 minutes, we plopped down in front of the oven to watch the cooking. Which was a lot of fun--we talked about how there's a fire in the bottom of the oven, and Mr. Kid explained to me that the cookies were getting big because of "da bakin powdah." Did I mention that the cookies were getting REALLY big? Yeah, these are the biggest thumbprint cookies I've ever seen. Like more than 2 1/2 inches across. After I filled the thumbprints, the kiddo sort of lost interest and began acting out a drama with his dinosaurs in the living room. By the time they came out of the oven, he had completely forgotten we were making cookies. Which, if you think about it, is the ideal cookie baking situation, because you get time to let them cool without a crazed two-year-old begging and wailing for a cookie that would burn the roof of his mouth off.

For all the absurd missteps, I have good news: these cookies taste awesome! And the texture is crispy at the edge and cakey in the center. We will definitely make these again. Not sure if I'll try to make them the right way or my wackadoo way next time.

When he finally got around to eating one of the cookies, Mr. Kid was duly impressed with his handiwork, but he explained to me that next time "we must" go to the museum before we make cookies. Kid drives a hard bargain.

*Technically, we do not work together--she is a county solicitor (i.e., prosecutor) and I am a county public defender, but we all work in the same building and spend our days working opposite each other as adversaries. So we're not co-workers, but I thought typing "opposing counsel" made me sound like a law twit.

Wednesday, December 3, 2008

I want that Wednesdays #4

Today I decided to feature two crafty items for which I have long held a torch.

Such a Cut-up
I cut a lot of paper. Not in clever, nifty shapes. Not into amazing pop-ups or silhouettes. Nope. I cut a lot of rectangles.

My first real foray into designing cards or stationery was when my husband and I designed and made the invitations for our wedding. All 100+ of them. And, of course, because I'm me, it was an elaborate affair of paper on paper, of odd shaped cuts requiring surgical precision, of nightmarish color matching (try matching colors onto cream stock using a solid ink printer--try it!). But we (I) got exactly what we (I) wanted. Although I do look back with some dismay on the font I chose (Lithos) and the way the full justification added some imperfect, wonky spaces between words, I am still proud as hell of my first stabs at digital illustration (hooray for the perfect simplicity of cherry blossoms) and my custom maps. And the color palette holds up four years later, too, I think.

I digress.

Anyhoo. That was only the first of many, many long nights of cutting, of obsessing over slivers of an inch.

I have two different tools for cutting straight lines from paper: a standard guillotine arm trimmer (with two missing pads on the bottom--not nice for keeping things steady), and the little thingie that came with my Xyron 900 laminating machine (which is one of the world's greatest tools/toys.) I can only cut one sheet at a time with either of these and with varying degrees of accuracy. This does not suit me.

See, I am a very messy (not dirty--just messy) person, but I crave order and precision. Making perfect cuts is my version of coloring in the lines. When I'm in the groove, it's soothing to see order spring up out of the chaos that is my creative process. When I'm not, every missed milimeter feels like a symptom of the disarray that threatens to consume me at any minute.

So this heavy duty ream cutter is my idea of a good time. Perfect, precision cuts. In, like, MORE THAN ONE PIECE OF PAPER PER MINUTE. Insane.

I want that.

They Don't Make 'em Like They Used To
It was the Christmas of either 1982 or 1983. That Christmas was a craft bonanza. I remember paintable suncatchers; collage assortments of pipe cleaners and pom-poms and dyed pasta; and awesome marker sets that smelled like blueberries and limes or somesuch. But without a doubt, the most memorable gift of that year (and nearly any other year) was the Fisher-Price weaving loom my parents gave me.

This was no rinky dink potholder loom (not that I don't enjoy those). No, this was a real, full-fledged loom. It took a multi-page manual to describe its proper use and no small amount of patience (as measured against the typical amount of patience possessed by a seven-year-old) to prepare the warp yarn. It had two shuttles (two colors of weft--shut up!), and a hand crank that made the weaving part pretty easy. It was packaged with a skein of hideous, scratchy blue acrylic yarn, but you could use it with any worsted-weight yarn, of which my grandmother had a plentiful, if cigarette-tinged, supply.

The only project I remember ever making to completion on the loom was a clutch-style pocketbook featuring the complimentary blue yarn, but I do also distinctly remember weaving with some of my grandmother's substantially more hideous variegated brown yarn (Shout out to the Naval commissary!).

I held on to the loom for years before my mother finally made me give it up. The only picture I could find of one is from a now-expired ebay listing, where the damned thing went for $4.99. Unbelievable--it was one of the best-made, most educational and entertaining toys ever. Given my outsized affection for this thing, I guess it's not surprising that I had grossly misremembered its size: in my memory the loom was huge--two or three feet long. Not so much. According to the listing, it is acutally 10 inches. I can only believe that means 10" across and more like 18" deep, but still, it's much smaller than in my memory.

But it's not so much the specific toy that I want (though, you know, for $4.99, I will definitely take one off your hands!). What I really hope is to be able to provide for my child the same joy and wonderment from toys that teach and inspire him--whatever his passions may be. Yeah, I want that.

Tuesday, December 2, 2008

Giveaway Winner

Thanks to everyone who participated in my stationery giveaway this week!

Congratulations to Dodie, the winner of the personalized stationery giveaway. I loved what each of you had to say, and I wish I could make all of your ideas into stationery for you. For now, though, I will get to work on Dodie's request for cards inspired by the Pink Sari Gang in India.

Happy Tuesday!

Sunday, November 30, 2008

Making Oranges into Orangeade

Ok. So, I was being uncharacteristically positive on Friday about my ginkgo fabric from Spoonflower. The greens? Perfect. The detailing? Spot on. But the orange? Unless there's an as yet undiscovered subset of duck hunters who really dig ginkgo leaf fashion, this fabric is going nowhere.

The color, as I designed it, is a deep, rich, ripe persimmon color. As printed? Safety cone.

So what did I learn? A couple of things:

First, SWATCH, dummy! The Spoonflower folks make it very cheap to get a swatch of your fabric before you take the plunge on lots of yardage. But I didn't get a swatch--because to me, that would be like ordering an eggroll to test out the Chinese place down the corner, and only ordering dinner after the eggroll arrived; for me, that could lead to death by anticipation. (Remember?) So just to be clear: there is no one to blame for this color mishap than me. Which is to say, I still heart Spoonflower!

Second, there's always a work around. The green fabric came out perfectly, and I couldn't bear the thought of waiting to sew until I had the ginkgo fabric redone in better colors. So I did the next best thing. I took a deep breath, and tried not to think as I sliced into the ginkgo fabric and cut out one of the motifs.

Inspired by this awesome quilt, I appliqued the leaves on using a sketch-like, freeform approach that I think fits nicely with the hand-drawn quality of the leaves. Sort of rustic modern, I think.

Then I sewed it all into a wee (12"x12") envelope pillow with a 1/2" flange.

Third, did I mention SWATCH!?! Oy.

I'm happy with the results. But more than that, I'm happy with myself. For not overreacting to disappointment. For bucking up and making it work. For remembering that what I love about all of this is the process, the problem solving. For remembering that perfection is elusive but always worth pursuing.

Friday, November 28, 2008

You've got mail.

Well, I don't know if you've got mail. But I got some today...

You know, I am not typically a physically demonstrative person. Which is a nice way of saying I am kind of a sloth.


So it is a testament to how excited I was to get a thick Tyvek envelope with a North Carolina postmark that I actually bounded from the mailbox into the house. That's the only word for it.

So, here it is! My first yardage from Spoonflower. I am so excited that I said, Natural Light be Damned!, and took these pictures. The color is fierce! Like surface of the sun fierce. It's not for everyone, but it makes me smile. (The Blogger picture engine seems to be dampening the color [boo]--for more photos with more accurate color, check out my flickr designstream.)

These first yards are destined for pillow-dom and my etsy shop. If you're interested in snagging one (I'm thinking 12"x12", but I'm flexible.), email me, and I'll reserve some yardage. Even though I could have this printed infinitely at Spoonflower, I'm thinking it will be more special if I limit the yardage I make. What do you think?

You know what I think? Woo!

[update: In the bright light of day, I kind of reconsidered my level of ecstatic praise for the color.]

Do Not Remain Stationary: A Stationery Giveaway!

Okey dokey, then. I am in a giving mood what with the holidays and all.

Up for grabs: 12 notecards designed just for YOU. I am on a paper bender right now, and my loss of sleep is your gain!

Here's what you have to do:
  1. Check out the cards in my etsy shop.
  2. Post a comment here telling me a) which of the designs is your favorite and b) what your imaginary, perfect stationery looks like.
You have until midnight EST, Monday, Dec. 1 to post your comment--please be sure to leave me a way to contact you if you win. One entry per person! I'll choose the winner and post here Tuesday morning, Dec. 2.

Happy Friday!

Wednesday, November 26, 2008

I want that Wednesdays #3

So. It's not that I'm giving up on my "I want that" segment. It's just that on the eve of Thanksgiving it seems a little crass. I mean, listen, I have a running list of random art/craft related wants that make me look like a character out of Willy Wonka. But I have a lot of stuff already. And, better yet, a lot of intangibles to be thankful for. So, I'm gonna be bringing back the wants next week with a vengeance. But for now, a parable of sorts.

10 years ago this month, I called up my email pen-pal and asked what he was up to that weekend. Not too much, he said. So I said I thought maybe I'd like to visit him in L.A.
From Iowa?
Well, yeah.
Um, ok...I don't really do the tour guide thing.
That's cool.
Allrighty then.
I had a job that allowed me pretty unlimited travel options, and this was before air travel became so unpleasant after 9/11, so I booked a red-eye out of Des Moines directly to Los Angeles--my itinerary put me in L.A. for about 36 hours.

The plane landed right after a rainstorm, so the air was clear and the colors were saturated--it was a pretty compelling first impression. He took me a Cuban restaurant, Versailles, for garlic chicken and then back to his tiny apartment in Miracle Mile. He had rehearsal for his comedy show scheduled, and I didn't have anything better to do, so I watched him and a room full of other funny guys put together a sketch comedy show in an apartment in Hollywood. We went out to a cheesy bar (Lava Lounge, I think?) and then back to his apartment.

If it isn't already obvious, I had gone to L.A. with a vague agenda: my penpal, whom I had known superficially since childhood had, over about 6 months, become a close confidant at a time when I was living a pretty isolated life--fresh out of college, working nonstop at a job I hated, living in a town which, albeit lovely, was just not home. And, uh, I was single. And he was cute. [NOTE TO MEMBERS OF MY FAMILY, CURRENT EMPLOYERS, ETC: "vague agenda" is as racy as this story gets--read on without fear.] So, when we got back to his apartment and he basically said "good night, thanks for coming," I was a little nonplussed.

The next day we bummed around in the morning (which was nearly afternoon because he slept so late--particularly brutal since I am an early riser and my body clock was already two time zones ahead of L.A.) and then went to another rehearsal. We had called MovieFone ("Hello, and welcome to MovieFone"--this was a revelation to me in 1998) and made tentative plans to catch the revival of Wizard of Oz at Mann's Chinese Theater. The rehearsal went long, so we barely made it to the theatre and had to run in the drizzle to make it in time. When we bought the tickets, the clerk gave us each a 60th anniversary Wizard of Oz flicker button that showed Dorothy and Friends following the yellow brick road. Inside, we ate popcorn from a cardboard box and watched a great movie inside one of the coolest theaters in Hollywood.

By the time the movie was finished it was time for me to head to the airport. The weekend had been fun, but not exactly what I'd had in mind. There had been mixed signals and a slightly dampened tenor to all our conversations. No big deal--nothing ventured, nothing gained.

As we drove out to the airport, we stopped for gas at the Arco (on Washington, I think? La Brea?), and when he got back in the car he took an almost confrontational tone, kind of hipster cool, even snearing. And he said, "So, let me ask you a question...why did you come here?"

Devestation mixed with frustration and anger and indignation. And came out in the form of "Um, I don't know."

Silence.

A minute or two later, he said, "I think maybe you were just looking for a little human contact." Woah. Dude. Was that, like, the most patronizing thing ever said? Or the most insightful? I was just sort of dumbfounded and stared out of the passenger window as we sped past the oil rigs on Sepulveda.

And then he put his hand on top of mine--not really holding it, just making contact, as it were. And we stayed that way until we pulled up in front of the terminal at LAX. He got out of the car and came around to help me get my bag out of the flatbead of his Mitsubishi Mighty-Max. It had gotten really cold, and I can still see his foggy breath and the wide lapels of his thrift store corduroy jacket. He gave me a hug--one of those great, enveloping hugs that gives the muscles in your back a pass and makes gravity seem just a little less, well, gravitational.

We should do this more often, he said.
Yeah. This. Whatever "this" is, I said, fishing.
Right, he said.
And I gathered up my bag and waived goodbye.

***

There's a lot more to the story--four cities, a lot of love and laughter, and a little heartache, too. But suffice it to say that ten years ago, I knew I wanted something, someone more in my life. And that I was thinking about more than just tomorrow. But if you had asked me to picture the two of us today, our marriage, our child, our home--I would have drawn a blank. I wanted this. I just didn't know what "this" would be. And I'm still finding out. And feeling pretty thankful.

Tuesday, November 25, 2008

Get it on the table #2: Roasted Cauliflower

First, have I mentioned my abiding love for frozen foods? And frozen vegetables, in particular? Well, feel the love.

And while I cannot function without frozen spinach, and I'm lost without frozen rice, I'm pretty sure that the greatest frozen vegetable of all time is cauliflower. Yep, cauliflower. If you do not like cauliflower, it is because some Nurse Ratchet type steamed it and fed it to you an a partitioned, green melamine plate. Try it again my way, will you? When you roast cauliflower, something happens that turns this weird, spongey, cabbagey brainshape into divine vegetable bacon. Seriously, it gets all brown with crispy bits and sweet and caramel-y, and just flat-out awesome.

Roasted Cauliflower

1 bag cauliflower
olive oil

Preheat the oven to 400°. (I am often too lazy/hurried to wait for the oven to get fully up to temp, but it is better this way.)

In a bowl, toss the cauliflower and the olive oil with salt and pepper to taste. Let sit about 15 minutes, if you can stand it. The salt will draw out some of the water and help bring the sugars to the surface, which means better browning. (Aside from the deliciousness factor, there may be a nutritional benefit: apparently, when cauliflower and other cruciferous vegetables are cut, they release healthy chemicals called isothiacyanates; the chemicals continue to develop until the vegetables are cooked.)

Spread the cauliflower out on a rimmed baking sheet--nonstick if you've got it.*

Roast the cauliflower for 25-40 minutes, turning very occasionally. This is one of those foods that benefits from a degree of benign neglect: if you turn them constantly, your oven will lose heat and you will never get the cauliflower caramelized. Still, you want to make sure any smaller pieces aren't over-roasting and that you aren't getting any too-dark spots.

This cauliflower makes a great alternative to mashed or roasted potatoes; it's great pureed with milk/broth for a hearty winter soup; you can add it to your favorite pasta dish; you can go Sicilian and serve it at room temp with chili flake, capers, and olives; you can make a bunch ahead and throw it onto a store bought cheese pizza (some slices of chicken sausage wouldn't hurt, either--I'm just sayin'). This may be the world's most underappreciated vegetable. But not if I can help it.

*Have you tried the Williams-Sonoma Goldtouch nonstick cookware? It ain't cheap, but Sweet Fancy Moses it sure works well. I am not affiliated with Williams-Sonoma in any way (though W-S, if you're reading, I'm happy to become a product tester!)--this is just one hell of a cracker jack product. I have three of the jelly-roll style pans (one large, two small) so that I can roast to my heart's delight. I've had my eye on the muffin tins for a while, but given the paucity of muffin baking going on at my house, I have thusfar exercised restraint. Admirable, yes?

Monday, November 24, 2008

On a Wee Bit of a Binge

Newsflash!! I drew something with my bare hands that doesn't make me shudder at its sight!

I had a bit of free time on my hands in court one day, and while I waited my turn, I started doodling some paisleys. I know, I know. We've been through the whole paisleys are weird and old and 70s thing. Whatever. I like 'em, and I like drawing 'em. And I kinda dug these sketches enough to force myself to haul out my mothballed scanner.

After over an hour of downloading drivers (since the last time I used this thing was three computers ago), I was finally in business. Scanned into Photoshop and then vectorized in Illustrator--this serves the dual purpose of smoothing out a few of the rough edges and making it possible for me to output perfectly rendered 5 foot tall paisleys...should the need arise (you never know). The pattern repeat is kinda shoddily thrown together, and if I look at it for more than, say, 3 seconds, I can find eleventy billion things wrong with it. BUT! Positive self-affirmation coming...wait for it, wait for it...I actually like the way you can tell I drew this in my own hand. I'm digging the homespun feel--reveling, even, in the imperfections that "enhance the natural beauty of this garment."

So I'm thinking of giving myself an assignment: 1 sketch per day that I don't scratch through, tear up, or toss. This would be major progress.

Film at 11.

(Also, I know that the green on green is getting a little repetitive here. But. Look, I'm a very industrious person with a lazy streak. And it likes green lately.)

Saturday, November 22, 2008

It's Saturday. So How's About Some Paisleys?

A very clever friend suggested that I make some downloadable desktop wallpapers. I thought, hey, great idea! I will knock a bunch out in no time. Yeah, right. I don't knock anything out in no time. I'm working on some that are really quite snazzy, but they are taking me forever, so I'm aiming to have them finished by Christmastime.

In the meantime, I thought I'd repurpose (does this count as upcycling?) a design I did for Spoonflower into a tileable wallpaper. I chose my paisley design because it relies on a dark background that isn't so great for use on their printing system. And because I think my husband would gag if I had this printed on to fabric. I don't think he hates them, but he always looks at them and says, "That's nice. For the seventies." As this same clever friend would say, "Whatever, dude."

So, if you want some very snappy non-seventies paisleys to add to your background, just right-click or ctrl-click on the image here, and save the .jpg to wherever you save your desktop patterns. When you select this as your desktop image, make sure to select the "tile" option (as opposed to stretch to fit or center or somesuch nonsense). Otherwise, you'll just be left with a weird stretched out square-o-stupid.

What's on your desktop? I take requests. I'll be here all week. Be sure to tip your waiter.

Wednesday, November 19, 2008

I want that Wednesdays #2

Have you ever taken a craft or art workshop? I think the last time I did I was about 8, and my white paint got tainted with ochre and I ended up with yellow clouds on my painting of some old building in Charleston. I want to try again.

***

Last week I decided that I'd create a recurring feature for my blog, "I Want that Wednesdays." Kinda cute and snappy. And consumerist.

And, look, consumerism gets a bad rap, especially these days, but I think that there is room for consumption that is conscious and conscientious--like buying handmade or "upcycled." I don't know much about physics, but I believe in the words "conservation of mass-energy." We are all here on earth for an indeterminate time, and we all have to find a way to entertain ourselves, make ourselves useful, and try to bring comfort and joy to others. I think that people who make things with their hands for the enjoyment of others are making the most of this mass-energy balance--entertaining themselves with their travails and entertaining others with the fruits of those travails.

So, this Wednesday, I want that. I want the spirit of thinking and making and giving that animates the best of art and craft. And I am feeling it more than ever as I reconnect with old friends, find new outlets for my ideas, and encounter the stunning richness of creativity that is but a click away thanks to the internet. More than ever, I am at home in my own abilities and able to enjoy the talents of others without jealousy. And I want more of that. More! I want to foster more connection and more encouragement. More friendship and more cross-pollination.

***

I remember the first time I bought a bead and strung it on a wire twenty years ago. My friend Nia had received these beautiful amethyst earrings for her birthday. I can still see them clearly: three smooth, round, deep purple (don't ask--I make an exception for amethyst) beads, each hung from a graduated silver pin. So simple, but so lovely. And I coveted them. So I got my mother to take me to the only store in Mount Pleasant that sold beading materials back then, and I bought some purple glass beads and eye pins and earring wires. And I had no idea what to do with them. I found my dad's rusty needlenose pliers and set to work. After hours of struggle, I had a decent pair of earrings--nothing nearly so fine as the ones Nia had been given, but attractive nonetheless. But the thing was so much less valuable to me by then than the making of the thing. I had imagined something and made it real, and that was exhilirating. I wanted the thing. What I got was so much more.

***

When my husband and I got married, we didn't have time or money for a honeymoon (I started law school the same week). And I have been fantasizing ever since then about a different kind of trip. A learning trip. There are several schools for art and craft within driving distance of our home that offer one- and two-week courses in all sorts of disciplines. I can imagine him spending a week on photography while I do a week on metalsmithing. Or he could do a week of lithography while I do a week of bookmaking. Sounds dreamy, right? So far, I've bookmarked the John C. Campbell Folk School, the Penland School of Crafts, and Asheville Bookworks, but I'm sure there are lots of others within range.

In the meantime, maybe a shorter workshop closer to home is a good idea? Redux Studios is a local print studio that has been offering a wide array of classes for the past few years. Hmm...

Any suggestions for other drool-worthy craft-nerd immersion programs? Experiences?

Tuesday, November 18, 2008

Giveaway Winners

Congratulations to the winner of the Buzz...Buzz... card giveaway, demmi, digital misfit, and musebootsi! I'll be sending your cards out shortly, and I hope you enjoy them!

So....I'm thinking about doing another giveaway, but this time of a piece of jewelry...any votes on what piece in my etsy store you'd like to win? Or should it be a new, mystery piece created just for this giveaway? Lay it on me!

Monday, November 17, 2008

A vote for Ginkgo is a vote for prosperity!


Soooo, Spoonflower is having a wee contest to pick the "fabric of the week." The winner will get free fabric, and the winning design will be made available for sale to the public through Spoonflower for one week only. How snazzy is that?

And. AND! My gingko fabric is one of the three choices!! I am beside myself. Would you please, please, pretty please go vote for me? The contest is described here, and that post has a link to the voting.

Part of why I am beside myself is that I do not do contests. I have not run for anything since my crushing defeat in the sixth grade student council race of 1986. I don't play games for keeps. I don't buy lottery tickets. I just don't ever put myself out there for stuff like this. Because, um, it stinks to lose. And you can't fail if you don't try!

Yes, it appears I have failed to learn the lessons of the many afterschool specials that touchingly addressed this very subject.

But today is a new day! Today I am putting myself out there and saying, "Hey, world! Here I am! Wouldn't it be cool if your 'I voted' sticker were printed with awesome orangey, patterny goodness?" Right?

Friday, November 14, 2008

I Should Be Committed

People who know me roll their eyes when I say that I am commitment phobic. I mean, I have a husband, a mortgage, two car payments, a kid, and a law degree, so it would seem that I am actually a commitaholic. But that's where looks are deceiving. I make bold decisions on impulse with long-lasting consequences and far-reaching impacts. But not commitments.

This is why I love vector-based illustration.

First, I don't draw well by hand. I can never get what's in my head out of my fingertips, mostly because I am such an uptight perfectionist that I am never willing to practice getting things wrong. And I hate the sight of my own handwriting unless I devote ridiculous quantities of time and energy to the task. This is where digital illustration comes in. Adobe Illustrator has freed me from the nagging permanence of hand drawings and opened up a world of infinite "undos" to me. I no longer fret about erasing embarrassing doodles or filling up my trash can with discarded fragments of ideas.

Of course, all this ephemera comes at a price. As has been recently discussed here, I love paper. I love fabric, too. I love tangible stuff. So, after wallowing in the endless possibilities of my digital canvass, I am always filled with a desire to make my ideas real, tangible. I wanna print something, right? Oh, if only ink and toner and paper weren't so darned expensive!! Every time I get near the printers, my husband takes a deep, brooding breath.

Now, after weeks of waffling and debating, I think I have finally settled on which two of my designs to have printed for my first Spoonflower order:

look familiar? yeah, i like gingkos. a lot.

i wanted an exaggerated fiber texture to be the foil to the crisp
orange background in the gingko pattern

I think I will buy fat quarters of each and make them into a small, single square cushion. Gingkos on front and back with the "burlap" as the sides, maybe tufted with covered buttons in the burlap fabric?

Of course, there's no where in my house where this will look good. But that's why I'm not committed to it.

Thursday, November 13, 2008

Get it on the table #1

Way, way back at the beginning of this century, I used to be a professional cook in Los Angeles. I cooked in some pretty fancy places with some pretty fancy people. And I was pretty good at it, if I may say. I would happily spend days simmering a stock into demi-glace. I cheerfully sliced bushels of carrots into perfect little matchsticks. I prepared three sauces to dress a single dish.

That was then.

Oh sure, I still love to prepare expansive feasts with fabulous ingredients and high-falutin' techniques. But in the intervening years since my time in the restaurant business, a few things have changed my priorities: marriage, law school, and parenthood, to name a few. So while I always crave well-prepared, delicious food, I have had to re-align my expectations and priorities. Working full-time means that I have limited waking hours to spend with my son and husband, and I don't want to spend all of that time waving my son out of the kitchen. Necessity has bred a few culinary inventions that I thought I'd share for others who find themselves in my shoes, so I'm incarnating a new feature for this blog called "Get it on the Table." Tonight: Spinach Fried Rice.

This recipe relies on several frozen foods that are staples in my home: frozen basmati rice and frozen spinach. I get my frozen rice from Whole Foods, but my operatives in other parts of the country tell me it's available all over. (Of course, you don't need to use frozen rice or spinach if you have cold, cooked rice and raw spinach lying around.)


Spinach Fried Rice
1 tablespoon olive oil
1 20-oz package Frozen Basmati Rice
2 tablespoons soy sauce
1/2 4-oz package Frozen Spinach
2 eggs, beaten
1 scallion, chopped
  1. Heat the oil in a large, preferably non-stick, saute pan over medium-high heat until you begin to smell the oil (and before it sets off your fire alarm).
  2. Add the frozen rice and stir to coat it with the oil.
  3. Turn down the heat to medium and cook the rice, turning occasionally, until it is warmed completely through.
  4. Add soy sauce and distribute evenly; let cook for 2-3 more minutes or until rice begins to brown and crisp.
  5. Add spinach, breaking up any large clumps and mixing well until warmed through.
  6. Make a well in the center of the pan and pour in egg mixture, scraping the bottom of the pan to make thin layers of scrambled egg; continue until all egg mixture is cooked.
  7. Sprinkle in sliced scallions and serve, adding soy sauce to taste.
Et, voilà! Serves 4.

What's the buzz, tell me what's a happenin'

Buzz...buzz...

Have I mentioned that I love paper? I mean, seriously, I love it. I grew up in a print shop, so paper has always been a part of my life. Lately, I've been experimenting with a technique in my illustrations that makes my drawings look like paper collages. Which, um, yeah, I really like.

These bees are printed on linen-finish cardstock--I am addicted to Neenah Paper's linen-finish stock--and accompanied by a...you guessed it, linen-finish bright white envelope...and packaged in a little glassine sleeve.

If you would like me to send you one of these little guys, leave a comment on this post before Midnight, EST, November 14 (that's tomorrow). I'll pick three names at random, contact the winners, and send the cards your way posthaste!

Wednesday, November 12, 2008

I want that Wednesdays #1

Ok, so Wednesdays can be a drag--the shine of a new week has long faded, but the weekend is still days away. I thought it would be good to highlight a nifty product or supply or craftsperson every Wednesday. You know, so that while we are all hung up pondering global economic collapse, we can remember what's truly important at least once a week: craftiness.

Without further ado, today I want one of these do-it-yourself, error-proof Kirigami card kits.

(partridge in a pear tree--available singly or as part of the 12-card pack--because these are DIY I'm sure I could make this in a color other than purple.)

I have always loved crisp cut paper silhouettes and pop-ups. These have a very clean, spare aesthetic reminiscent of Robert Sabuda's Winter's Tale.
(All of Sabuda's work is amazing, and for it he is deservedly famous; Winter's Tale is my favorite of them all.)

Anyhoo, I think these would be a great gift for a precocious kid or even a sodden old fogey like me. Having a nifty card to give as a gift is part of the allure, but even more exciting to me is to feel like I could have my hand held as I learn to reverse engineer these designs and adapt the concepts to my own use. Nifty.

So while we're talking about pop-ups and silhouettes, I should give a shout out to some other amazing paper artists who inspire me.

Matthew Reinhart
Matthew Reinhart is Robert Sabuda's partner in crime. He has what I could only describe as a more textured aesthetic than Sabuda. His shark pop-up book rocks the house.
He also went to my high school and was friends with some of my friends. He would certainly not remember me, but aside from him being all famous now, he is memorable to me for having been (and continuing to be), um, kinda insanely good looking.

Patricia Zapata
Patricia Zapata is a multi-talented designer from Texas (I have been following her adventures in textile design over at Spoonflower, too). I guess she falls more in the paper-cuts silhouette category, but her pieces are so dimensional that they are almost pop-ups. She sells kits to make her adorable little gift boxes, but I think that one of her paper collages would make a very special heirloom gift:

(morning mist wall art)

David A. Carter
In David Carter's pop-up books, art meets engineering and confounding puzzles. My cousin gave us Blue 2 for Christmas the year Marshall was born, and it is a family favorite. The only thing that would make it better is if this book were called Blue 4.*
He has a ton of amusing titles, ranging from the silly to the serene. Marshall's favorite is Alpha Bugs, and I must admit, I usually cringe at alphabet books because I know there will be a minimum of 26 pages (don't judge me), but I enjoy Alpha Bugs every single time.

* When I was a little kid, my favorite number was 4 and my favorite color was blue. There was a television station in town, Channel 4, whose logo was (and still is) a blue 4. To me, it was the most perfect thing in the world. One day, as my mom and I were driving somewhere, I saw the Channel 4 billboard. On that day, I was particularly happy with my mom, and I turned to her and said, "Momma, you're a blue four!" Since then "blue four" has been a code phrase in my family for a really great thing. My husband even had it engraved inside my wedding band. Aw.

Tuesday, November 11, 2008

Pattern Science

Since I have become obsessed with pattern and surface design, I've started trying to educate myself about the theory and principles that underlie great design.

Design*Sponge had a tutorial a while back from Julia Rothman. It was eye-opening to me because I have always made patterns digitally by applying the principles I learned in our 9th grade geometry class unit on M.C. Escher (essentially, take a shape away from one side, add it to the other, ad infinitem). And while this works for me, I think that sometimes the effect is too linear. Julia Rothman's approach is more low-tech, i.e. pen and paper and some paper cutting sleight of hand, but really satisfying. I think it results in a more organic feeling pattern, which is definitely something I want to explore more.

So, like any good nerd, I have also started reading this book,
Pattern Design - A Book for Students Treating in a Practical Way of the Anatomy, Planning and Evolution of Repeated Ornament by Lewis F. Day, published in 1903. With a title like this, it's hard to understand why this one isn't flying off the shelves, I know. But if you are interested in pattern and surface design, OR you just like really bitchy snark about bad wallpaper, you must read this book. Mr. Day has, as they say, quite a literary voice and an opinion or two which may or may not condemn the vast majority of all design. But better yet, this is a really informative book about the science of satisfying pattern design. Say that three times and see if you don't get a little hot and bothered. And, AND: big chunks of the book are available online, so that even if your library's 63 copies are all checked out, you can get hooked up with the patterny goodness posthaste. Do it. Your ugly wallpaper demands it.

Sunday, November 9, 2008

I'm Gonna Cut You.

Laser cut, that is.

Have you heard about this new business, Ponoko? They will laser cut your vector drawings onto wood, acrylic, felt.

Seriously? As if I didn't already have trouble sleeping, this has been keeping me awake for days--oh the possibilities! I'm thinking of modifying some of my Spoonflower designs to work with the Ponoko system.

Time out.

I have come up with, what?, dozens of designs for Spoonflower. And I have printed how many? Zero. I could chalk this up to money, of which I have very little. That would be a good explanation. But it flies in the face of the reality that I can ALWAYS rationalize the purchase of a supply. So what's the real reason? The same reason I will happily cook for hours on end and hate ordering take out or delivery. The waiting. Once that call is made, all I can think about is pizza/General Tso's/pad thai. Every minute is another soul-stealing romp through starvation.

So, yeah, I have not ordered my Spoonflower fabric BECAUSE I WANT IT SO MUCH. And Ponoko--they are in New Zealand. I might actually expire before my laser cut goodness could arrive. I think I'd rather keep trying to rig a fiery beam of light to my cordless dremel.

The New Meaning of Life

So. Now that the election has stopped gobbling up every of my available brain cells, I can return my attention to obsessive pursuits of yore: jewelry making, sewing, designing, ignoring housework, etc.

Whereas this time last week I was manically hitting "Command-R" (that's right, I'm keystrokin' it on a Mac, mmhmm) on every political blog known to humankind (which naturally excludes anything originating from Fox, NewsMax, Free Republic, etc.), I have found a new way to exercise my personality disorder: Etsy.

A couple of things:

First, let's talk about the name. I like it, it's cute and short. But, um, for lo these many years I have labored under the mistaken presumption that it's pronounces "eetsee." Nope. I have learned that the "Etsians" (yeah, I think that's a little weird) call it "ehtsee." I just can't get behind this. "Ehtsee" sounds like something my husband's grandmother would say crossly if you asked her how she was feeling. "Eetsee" sounds cute and tiny, like the name of a teacup poodle or something. So I'm gonna keep calling it "Eetsee."

Second, I wish that they didn't track your stats for you. Oh, don't get me wrong. I LOVE a statistic. I planned my wedding and the birth of my kid in a spreadsheet. But that's just it. I LOVE a statistic. So now I'm just hitting "Refresh" like it's my job. Not healthy.

Oh. So. Maybe you would check out my etsy store (pronounced however you like): cottageindustrialist.etsy.com? That would be swell. No pressure. I'm just feelin' a little ehtsee and I'm thinking that might help.