Monthly Archives: April 2012

Documentary: Objectified

From Gary Hustwit, the filmmaker who created Helvetica, comes Objectified, a film about our relationship with manufactured objects and the people who design them.

Definitely watching this on the weekend.

 

In other news, I am hoping to have some blog updates soon, so stay tuned…and have a lovely weekend.

House Snakes

Who knows what lurks in the corners of suburban British Columbia…

When Benno was a baby we had a Diaper Genie for his dirty diapers. For those of you who have never used one of these, you put the diaper into the device, push it down, then twist the top, thus sealing the diaper in the plastic. The next used diaper then fits on top of the twist and creates another cocoon-like package, and so on until you had a bunch of diapers linked together like sausages. When the pail was full you would twist another part of the top and a small razor would chop off the chain of diapers and you would start all over.

Now, what most people don’t know is that the chain of diapers from a Diaper Genie is, in fact, a Diaper Snake. And it is pretty crafty. At the time we were living in my parents house, and the Diaper Snake liked nothing better than to sneak up on people or hide is unsuspecting places. The victim would come around the corner and jump with shock as he or she beheld the grinning maw of the Snake, features finely etched into its face, almost as if put there with he delicate strokes of a Sharpie. It was a fearsome sight to behold.

Sadly, the Diaper Snake is no more. He ended his illustrious career after Cate was out of diapers. But his cousin, the Vacuum Snake, still terrorizes our townhouse. Or at least he did, until I caged that wily beast.

For months, the main floor of our house looked like this:

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Here we see the Vacuum Snake coiled, ready to spring and wrap himself around the legs of unsuspecting victims. He would slither around the floor, totally blocking the walkway, causing mayhem.

Finally, I remembered the spare laundry basket, and I corralled the beast.

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While this curtailed his slithering activity, it didn’t prevent John from gnawing on the snaky carcass at every opportunity. Not the most sanitary thing for an eleven month old to be teething on.  Clearly, something had to give.

One day the opportunity presented itself. Darren had brought up our cedar chest for use as an extra seat at the dining table and additional storage. After much pondering I moved the games from the shelf in the hall closet to the cedar chest, thus freeing up valuable closet space. And into the void went the Vacuum Snake.

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I am happy to report that the House Snakes have been vanquished!  Ha ha!

DIY: Perpetual Calendar

perpetual calendar courtesy of DesignSponge

This past fall I saw a post on DesignSponge about creating a perpetual calendar (I think I first found it through Pinterest).  A perpetual calendar or journal has one page for every day of the year.  You write something that happened that day and then do that every day.  At the end of the year you start all over again, so that you can see what you did the year before.  My Aunt Mary has a perpetual calender for her garden and I always thought it was a neat idea.

So, I decided to create one for myself.  I used 5×8 index cards cut in half, stamped them with the date and year, and ended up with something like this:

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I really liked the fruit crate in the DesignSponge version, but as I made it in the dead of winter, I resorted to using a mini Mandarin orange crate.  It stayed orange for quite some time and then I spray painted it last week (two coats of primer, two coats of Rustoleum Oil Rubbed Bronze spray paint). By the way, did you know that when a label says to use in a well ventilated area, it usually helps to spray paint an object at the front of the garage with the door open rather than at the back with the door slightly ajar?  I know, revolutionary.

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I had a teal inkpad that I bought on a whim when it was on sale, so that is the colour that I used for stamping the date.  It took quite a while, but my OCDnss was very happy with such a repetitive task.

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I like that the teal is so cheerful. I also used it on some of the “month” dividers.

Other dividers got the gold treatment.

I really like the gold and blue.  I made the month dividers the same size as the index cards.  I may change that in the future, but it works for now.

There it is, in all its glory, the perpetual calendar sitting next to the smilodon skeleton.  (Which I think it SO COOL, by the way.  I have totally stolen it as my desk mascot.  I don’t think Benno has clued in yet.  Let’s hope he just likes having it around and doesn’t try to reclaim it).

One final thing.  Know how long it took me to finish this?  From idea to completion, five months.  And if I didn’t have this blog to keep me doing things, it likely would have been sitting unfinished on the desk for a lot longer.  Next project to finish, artwork for John’s room.

Most beautiful thing: Birthday and First Communion

I was supposed to post this on Monday, but you know when you just can’t find the right words to say what you mean? Hopefully I found them…

This past Saturday was Darren’s 33rd birthday. Early on in our marriage I forgot his birthday three years in a row and didn’t remember until we got a call from his mother to wish him a Happy Birthday. Oh, the shame. And I’m not kidding, I felt awful. Thankfully, I have remembered Darren’s birthday for the past few years, and this year continued with that positive trend. I was also happy because, as I mentioned here, I didn’t have to worry about finding a present for him. I love him like the dickens, but finding him a good gift is difficult.

We had a very low key day and spent a lot of time with the kids, which is what Darren likes best. We went for a walk, watched “The Secret of Roan Inish,” Darren got to hunt around at the local Catholic bookstore by himself, we had a nice dinner, and played a rousing game of Uno. A good day. (And a sleepy boy).

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Sunday was Benno’s First Communion. I often find that the things that are closest to your heart are often the most difficult to write about. This is certainly no exception.

Ben is an exceptionally intelligent child, but he can also be a challenge. He can be really rough and tumble, attacking like a velociraptor, and he can be sweet and gentle with amazing insights. On Sunday morning he vacillated between bouncy excitedness and calm contemplation. Totally Benno.

I will never forget the solemnity and seriousness on his face when he walked into the church with the rest of the kids, despite the best efforts of the principal to make him smile.

I will never forget the chorus of Grade Two voices as they confidently sang out the responses of the Mass.

I will remember Ben standing up with a classmate and reading the second reading. My boy, who hates to do speech arts and has avoided it for the past three years, standing in front of a church full of people and reading to them as if they were guests in our living room.

I will remember watching him receive his First Communion and being overcome with joy. My boy, my little Benno who came into the world so unexpectedly, who challenges me every day with his wit, his intelligence, and his tenacity, receiving the Eucharist, receiving Jesus.

I will never forget Ben saying, “I can’t wait to do it again!”

Thank you to all the grandparents and godparents and aunts and uncles and friends who prayed for us on Sunday and who have been praying for my boy ever since he arrived into the world on a cold, snowy morning in the middle of a Saskatoon winter. I love you all.

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(Benno and Ms. Kranabetter, his teacher and my lovely friend)

Documentary: The Fog of War

The Fog of War is an interview with former American Secretary of Defense, Robert McNamara.  As a historical document, it is fascinating.  As a study in leadership, it is invaluable.  It is a beautiful film, illustrating the starkness of war, the uncertainty inherent in the actions of the powerful, and the thoughtfulness of a human being. I keep coming back to this documentary again and again, as a sobering reminder of the responsibilities of leadership.

One of the themes that I explored in my MA thesis was the issue of aging and how elderly academics were treated by their younger counterparts.  The academics that I studied were treated rather badly, but they had valuable thoughts to offer.  Robert McNamara is not a saint.  His actions resulted in the deaths of thousands of people, and that is not to be taken lightly.  But the thing is, he doesn’t take it lightly.  He has had time to reflect on his actions and on the actions of those around him, and from a position of experience, calls upon today’s leaders to think through the problems of war.  I think this film shows that we need to listen to the elderly, to those who have lived through conflict.  And we certainly need to listen to each other.

Watch for his reaction to Kennedy’s death, his response to Johnson’s awarding him the Medal of Freedom, and his quotation of T.S. Eliot at the end of the film:

“I’m not so naive or simplistic to believe we can eliminate war. We’re not going to change human nature any time soon. It isn’t that we aren’t rational. We are rational. But reason has limits. There’s a quote from T.S. Eliot that I just love: “We shall not cease from exploring, and at the end of our exploration, we will return to where we started, and know the place for the first time.” Now that’s in a sense where I’m beginning to be.”

Design: The Friday Project

Courtesy of SwissMissStephen Wildish is a British illustrator and designer who has come up with “The Friday Project”, in which he has to create something witty or funny every Friday. Here is his poster “1990s Film Alphabet”.

 

Darren and I got most of them.  (Can anyone tell me what “K” and “V” is?)  Hop on over to Stephen’s website – it is very cool.  A fair bit of it is NFK (not for kids), but there is a lot of good stuff there.  Look for the pancakes poster and the eggs poster.

Bean Burgers

For years, Mark Bittman’s How to Cook Everything has been one of our “go-to” cookbooks.  Whenever culinary difficulties and disputes arise, Bittman is consulted.

One of our standard meals (usually on Fridays, as we generally avoid meat on Fridays) is bean burgers.  They are delicious and the kids will eat them with no complaints.  How can you go wrong?  A friend asked me about the recipe the other day, and rather than sending a link with my variations, I thought I should just post the recipe here.

There are a bunch of variations, but this is the way that I make them.

Bean Burgers, Adapted from Mark Bittman

  • 2 cups well-cooked chickpeas (I use a 19oz can, rinsed and drained)
  • 1 medium onion , quartered
  • 1/2 cup rolled oats (preferably not instant)
  • 1 tablespoon chili powder
  • 1 teaspoon minced garlic (optional)
  • salt & freshly ground black pepper
  • 1 egg
  • a bit of ketchup (usually a couple of good squeezes)
  • extra virgin olive oil or grapeseed oil or corn oil , any neutral oil, as needed

Directions:

  1. Combine the egg and the onion in the food processor and pulse until chunky (this is to make sure you don’t have big onion pieces in the burgers, as this will upset the kids)
  2. Add the beans, oats, spices, ketchup (start with a little bit and add more if necessary), salt, and pepper and pulse until chunky but not puréed, adding a little liquid if necessary (this is unlikely but not impossible) to produce a moist but not wet mixture. Let the mixture rest for a few minutes if time allows.
  3. With wet hands, shape into whatever size patties you want and again let rest for a few minutes if time allows. (You can make the burger mixture or even shape the burgers up to a day or so in advance. Just cover tightly and refrigerate, then bring everything back to room temperature before cooking.) Film the bottom of a large nonstick or well-seasoned cast-iron skillet with oil and turn the heat to medium. A minute later, add the patties. Cook until nicely browned on one side, about 5 minutes; turn carefully and cook on the other side until firm and browned.
  4. Serve on buns with the usual burger fixings. Or cool and refrigerate or freeze for later use.
Let me know if you try it!

Finding my niche, revisited.

I originally posted this last October on our family blog. I found it when I was surfing around today. I have a couple of projects on the go, and so I was wondering what my Friday post should be and I found this. It is interesting looking back, even if it is only looking back a few months. Take note of the language I use. This blog has been percolating for a long time.

John is going through a grouchy teething spell, so this morning, after Darren and the two oldest had gone out to a birthday party and to run errands, I was supposed to nurse John to sleep, eat breakfast, and take a shower.

It is 11:30 and I have eaten, but John is sleeping in the Ergo carrier on my chest and I am nowhere near as clean as I would like to be. So, I have spent the last half an hour or so on Pinterest looking at all the beautiful things that people have tagged.

I love beauty. I love order. I love to see things that have been created simply to be visually pleasing. Even more, I love beautiful things that are functional! I aspire to that kind of life – a life that reflects my visual sensibilities. I know that there is an interesting subtext here about beauty being on the inside, etc, etc, but let’s just forget all of that for now. I know it is there, and it comforts me on days like today when I am smelly and greasy in front of the computer. Hey, all I need to do is look down at the kid on my chest to see perfection and beauty!

I think that external, visual order and beauty can be a reflection of divinity. Purple and yellow contrast, green and blue compliment. Three is harmonious, four is structured. Our eyes are drawn to certain arrangements, certain colour combinations, certain fonts, certain expressions because there is an underlying Beauty that tells us about a greater purpose for our lives. It lifts us up, draws us to new heights, challenges us to be better than we actually are. And in the process, that Beauty enables us to reach those heights because in taking in that Beauty, it becomes part of who we are.

So here is my quandry.

One of my blessings/curses is that I am a very well rounded individual. That generally means that I can do a lot of things well, but I don’t think that there is any one thing at which I excel. This has benefits (I am competent and I can learn how to do a wide variety of things) and downfalls (sometimes I can be really unfocused because I don’t know which way to turn).

Being a mother adds to this distractedness, simply because there are three little humans who are, to varying degrees, dependent upon me for all their needs. There isn’t a lot of time in the day for anything other than meeting those needs and keeping the house from exploding.

I have found over the past year that I have the time and discipline to begin a lot of projects, but then I don’t have the time (or, perhaps, the discipline) to finish them. Life intervenes. The immediate tyrannizes. And the wonderful ideas that are partially brought to life sit on the desk gathering dusk, a constant reminder that I haven’t finished what I started.

There is so much that I want to do (here’s where the well-roundedness and wishfulness comes in) – sewing, refinishing furniture, visual design, learn more about fonts, paint, get back into pottery, sculpt, write a book or two, learning to be a better cook, and the list goes on. Websites like Pinterest can be great and inspiring, but they can also be discouraging because they remind me of things I want to do but can’t. At least not right now. I feel like I have all this ability, but no time to indulge it.

Right now my job is to be a Mom to three young kids, and I love it. Watching your children grow is one of the great joys of my life. But I am still trying to find my niche, figuring out the practical outcomes of being a mother and a “well-rounded” person who cares about Beauty in her surroundings. What is the medium that most suits me, my stage in life, and who I am? How can I find that medium and use it for Beauty, for my family and to lift me up from the everyday into the Eternal? Does it have to be just one thing? How can I balance all of this out, how do I prioritize?

So. Goals for the day. Look at my surroundings and be thankful for what I have. Take a shower (eventually). Look at what is already beautiful in my life (hello John!) and make one thing better before I go to sleep tonight.

Make one thing better before you go to sleep. I think that is really one of the reasons why I started this blog, to hold myself accountable to finishing the things that I begin and to remind myself as I am struggling through the tyranny of the immediate, that you can always make something better.

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Here’s what I did yesterday. We removed all the dust jackets from our books on the main floor, and now we have a rainbow of books. See? Just a little thing, but it makes a difference. Have a wonderful weekend.

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(This is what it looks like in the daytime, decluttered. I am planning on painting the pink boxes mossy green or brown. Those are the pictures that still need to be hung. And just to keep it really real, here is a shot of all the extra stuff that was living on the shelf.)

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(I’m not very good with house plants. Anyone need a Calathea?)

The Cake.

When I am asked to put together a dessert, I usually turn to my old standby, lemon squares. They have a shortbread bottom and a lemon curd top and are extremely toothsome. At least, so I have been told.  Oh, and I just recently discovered that warm lemon squares are just this side of heaven.  Many thanks to my Mom, who gave me her recipe!

However, this Easter I wanted to switch things up, so when I ran across a recipe for Vanilla Cake with Pineapple Cream Cheese Icing, I was pretty sure I had a winner. The recipe calls for a boxed white cake as a base, and seeing as how Darren avoids boxed cake like the plague, I found a good recipe for vanilla cake in a Cooks Illustrated cookbook.

(Side note: We don’t have a stand mixer, and I can usually manage without one.  However, I really could have used one when I made this cake as the batter was very thick and it challenged the old hand mixer that I inherited from my Mom.  Incidentally, it is my birthday in about a month, so if anyone (hint hint, *cough* Darren) wanted to buy me either a good hand mixer or a KitchenAid stand mixer, I wouldn’t object.  Given the space limitations in our kitchen, the hand mixer is probably the more affordable and prudent choice.  Just saying…)

To continue with the cake.

The recipe called for making the cake in a cookie sheet with 1″ sides, which I did not have, so I resorted to two 9″ round pans.  Darren calculated that the volume would be the same, so on Saturday afternoon Cate and I made the cake.  They cooled, I wrapped them, and away they went to Chilliwack.  I thought it would be easier to make the icing in Chilliwack, rather than ice the cake and transport it without a proper cake box/tin/Tupperware/whatever you call it.

The cake was originally intended for Easter Sunday, but I think everyone filled up on the delicious dinner, and by the time I got downstairs from putting John to sleep, mostly everyone had gone.  So I postponed the cake completion until Monday.

Monday rolled around, and when everyone else was in the hot tub, I tackled the completion of the cake.  Here’s what the icing looked like midway through:

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This is my Mom’s old Kenwood stand mixer.  She has had it forever and it is still going strong.  I remember using this when I was younger.  My first attempt at a cake was a failure.  It ended up looking like it was created by Dr. Seuss and made a HUGE mess in the kitchen. (Hey Mom, you should track down those pictures so I can post them!)

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This is the cake with icing in the middle.  I don’t think I drained the pineapple enough so I had to add about an extra cup of icing sugar, which I think made the icing a little too sweet.  Next time I am going to strain the pineapple and squeeze it out so I don’t have to add extra sugar as a stabilizer.  I was a little worried that the icing would be too wet to hold the cake together, but it turned out all right in the end.

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See? Pretty fancy!

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Obligatory interior shot. Check out all that delicious icing!

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It was really good.  I got rave reviews from everyone who has tasted it, including both family and friends.  It’s amazing what you can create when you follow a recipe!  Oh, and I am definitely giving this a shot again, but preferably when there are more people around to help eat it.  And I think I’ll try the cookie sheet version as well.

Have I mentioned that I love food?

Photography: beautiful and brutal.

I was goofing around on Pinterest yesterday and I came across photographer Geoffrey Baker’s portrait series of people who have run “The Barkley,” an endurance race that has been billed as “the most difficult race on the planet.”  It features saw brier (I think this was the inspiration for the stuff that surrounded Sleeping Beauty’s castle), 59,100 feet of climb, a descent of over 100 miles, an abandoned prison, and geographical features with names like Testicle Spectacle, Danger Dave’s Climbing Wall, and The Bad Thing.

There are two photo essays.  The first is a series of “before” and “after” shots of the participants called “Out There”.  Check out the bios, it is really interesting to see where these people are coming from.

The other is a series of photographs from the event itself entitled “The Barkley: Bad Things Happen.” He isn’t kidding.  Brutal doesn’t even begin to describe.  I can see Darren loving to do something like this.  Hopefully he doesn’t read this blog entry…

 

(I would have loved to post some photos directly onto the blog, but I am experiencing technical difficulties and I don’t want to violate Geoffrey Baker’s copyright by doing it badly.  So just click through to the links and be astounded.)