Monday, July 4, 2011

Crochet Saves the Sea

I came across this TED talk, of all places, on Apartment Therapy, and watched the whole things even though I didn't have time to because it was so incredibly interesting.

Allow me to espouse why it is so amazing:

1) It's about a crocheted coral reef, which is beautiful and awesome.
2) The crocheted sea creatures solved a problem mathematicians were grappling with and didn't think was even possible.
3) The woman giving the talk looks just like the bad-ass protagonist from "The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo" and imagining that girl crocheting while fighting bad guys is wonderful.
4) The reef was in a global warming-themed exhibit.  Hence crochet saves the sea.
5) It's a TED talk.

Friday, May 13, 2011

Plant Parenthood: Flea Beetles! AH!

The epic wrath of this adorable pest is upon us.  Yesterday, my kale and arugula seedlings were sad looking with tiny holes in the leaves, so I leaned in for a closer look and saw my tiny enemy.  They look cute especially since they jump like little sprites but make no mistake - They. Will. Kill. Kale.  And many other things.  But that kale of mine must live!  

So I found some solutions using the trusty interweb:
  • Water and Fertilize - enough water and the right conditions give the plant the best chance of surviving and overcoming the stress of a pest.  Some research has shown that flea beetles may not like leaves after they've been treated with fertilizer, so a sprinkle of dilution of sea kelp and water could do the trick.
  • Trap Cropping - interplant what you're cultivating with Giant Mustard or Radishes.  The beetle will eat them instead.
  • Row cover - reemay or the like
  • Sticky tape . . . super high tech.
  • Nematodes
  • Infuse water with garlic, onion, and mint and spray on plants - another potential repellant

They will not win.

Plant Parenthood: Sheet Mulching

From what I understand, organic gardening is really all about the quality of the soil, and when it comes to our garden, the soil is our biggest challenge.  Clay soil abounds in urban gardens in this county and our yard is no exception.  The dirt is heavy, mostly lifeless, and full of large-ish rocks and walnut shells from the Black Walnut tree in our yard.  Black Walnuts are an amazing thing to have at your disposal, if you have the motivation to harvest them and crack them open, but after struggling with our tomatoes, we found out that walnut shells contain juglone, which is poisonous to tomatoes and many other plants.  The largest concentrations of the toxic substance are in the nut hulls, roots, and buds, so even though our garden is not directly under the tree, our plants are still susceptible because the squirrels carry those walnuts around everywhere and like to drop them into the garden for safe keeping (jerks).

Pesky black walnut hulls.

Friday, April 22, 2011

Inspiration from a 3 year old

This video was posted by a friend of mine and I watched it and a few others of this little boy that his parents must have posted.  He is amazing and totally an inspiration to follow whatever it is that gives you bliss!  The end is the best part!

Monday, April 11, 2011

Traveling at Home

After several months of my daily photo project, I've been trying to reflect on how the project might have changed me.  Part of the answer came from a very unexpected place, as do the best things in life, I suppose.

My job at the co-op entails organizing classes about topics of interest to our crunchy community and one that I recently helped organize and attended was led by a superbly inspiring dude, Darshan Karwat, who spent the last year attempting to create ZERO waste.  That meant no trash, no recyclables, no buying anything new.  (See the details of his project and some of the great reflections throughout on his blog, Minimizing Entropy.)  Not only was I super inspired by his dedication and thoughtfulness throughout the practice, but his new exploration of Traveling at Home has helped me realize what it is that my photos have been trying to do.

Part of the challenge of producing a new photo each day is to find something "photo worthy."  Each time I set out to take my photo for the day, I have to take time to become aware of my surroundings in a photographic way.  If I lose this for a couple of days (like I have the last two days, but we're not going to talk about that right now) I really do get out of the habit of looking photographically and have to get it back again.  But when I do get centered in this way, things start to reveal themselves around me.  I see things that I'd never taken notice of before: a new angle on scene I look at every day, a new alley or building I'd never noticed before, light and shadows making patterns, or items juxtaposed in intriguing ways.  Even before this project, these are the kinds of photos I found myself making without really knowing why.  Here are few from years ago that exemplify this idea:

Berkeley, CA  July 16, 2007 
San Francisco, CA.  July 17, 2007
The King
Phoenix, AZ.  January 11, 2008

Wednesday, April 6, 2011

Inspiration just when I need it

A few months ago I came across this nugget of inspiration that has stuck with me and came around again at a time that I really needed it.  The last week or two my mind has been occupied with job applications, interviews, and a crazy schedule (with the 5 jobs I already have) so my daily photo project momentum has been waning and my confidence dropping.  This cycle of self-doubt can pretty quickly send the creative juices straight to the bottom of a dark pit to stay there until they begin to shrivel up and the camera and guitar and knitting needles start to gather dust only to be left there for 20 years before finally being sold a garage sale . . .

But luckily, Pete Eckert is one dude who's story can't help but inspire others, and I have him to thank for keeping my creativity out of that dreadful pit.  He is a blind photographer, and a lover of cooking, tinkering, and constructing.  Here's his take on photography, art, and the simple satisfaction of making things:

| Artists Wanted | In Focus : Pete Eckert from Artists Wanted on Vimeo.

Monday, April 4, 2011

Photo Essay: Budget Protest

Carrying around a camera everywhere means you're likely to capture things you otherwise wouldn't.  On one recent rainy day in March, I was able to capture "democracy in action" Ann Arbor style, at a small protest downtown.

The rally was in response to the governor's recent budget proposal and anti-public sector actions. It took place downtown in front of the post office.  I'd like to give my reactions to the event, but I think these photos tell the story much better.  

Friday, April 1, 2011

Plant Parenthood: Seed Starting Recipe

While growing food is not necessarily an art, there are few things more creative.  The simple fact that growing food involves nurturing life from humble beginnings - a tiny seed into a strong, fruitful plant - makes it an inherently creative endeavor.

This act of bringing something to life out of very little is a common thread throughout the topics I explore in this blog.  Knitting, repurposing clothing, recycled art, composting, gardening and baking are the same way: The raw ingredients you start with are not as useful on their own, but require creative input and a little bit of imagination to become something wonderful.  Growing food strikes a similar node in my creative impulse, and I think this is what I find exciting and empowering about making things.

Of course, in order to have a successful garden you can't start with nothing.  Luckily we've had a couple of growing seasons to get some practice with our garden.  Our neighbors started a little garden plot in the backyard of the house our apartment is in, and while they still lived here, we helped with weeding and planting and trying to keep the fat, greedy (but really f-ing cute) groundhogs who live next door out of the garden.

We had limited success last year since I was working on the farm and was home only on weekends through the growing season, and was usually too exhausted to do anything but eat and . . . sit.  But this year, we're making a more concerted effort to really see our backyard vegetable garden flourish.  The first step was to get an early start and the best way to do that? . . . start seeds indoors!

Monday, March 28, 2011

Poem: Dollhouse


Sequestered indoors,
I become
            acutely aware of my size,
and its changeable nature.
I swell and shrink, like a painted “magic” washcloth
            and without the moisture of those around me.

This is a doll’s house,
the details of life
pixilated and blurred
constructed on a scale
larger than my own.
The walls are far away,
their curvilinear structures
staying, always, at a distance
                        as I move closer,
they repel my magnetic edge.

I am made of paper
            of the thickest kind,
my appearance changed by folding the tabs
over my corners.
My movement sounds
like tack board on the wind
            wobbly and angular,
I go through the motions.
Dwarfed by my material constants
            in this tilt shift perception. 

Image by CountLazarus

Marian Mobius Cowl

This is one piece I'm having a hard time parting with.  The yarn is so soft and the color is so dynamic that I just want to cuddle it non-stop until the end of my days.  But since it was made for such a dear friend, I will cut the cord and send it to her.  It just means I'll have to cuddle her instead when I trek out to Boston to visit her (which is the superior alternative, for sure!)

Everything about making this cowl was an absolute TREAT!  I bought the yarn at this adorable shop in Chicago called Sister Arts Studio.  Finding it was a true discovery.  My cousin and I spent most of the weekend aimlessly wandering around Chicago re-exploring the city, and at this point in the day we were lost and hungry and feeling annoyed after taking a wrong turn and walking 5 blocks in the wrong direction.  We happened upon a welcoming looking window across the street and crossed to take a peak inside thinking for sure we'd only be able to look since everything around it was closed.

Monday, March 14, 2011

Wild Fermentation

I'll admit, fermented vegetables used to be one of the last things that would make me say, "oooOOooo, that sounds good."  But, I was thiiiiis close to buying Wild Fermentation from a bookstore in Wicker Park while we were in Chicago last weekend, because my interest in all things fermented has been rising since I've realized the potential for creativity (which is what I'm all about).  I'm kicking myself a little now because I've been recently re-inspired to go deeper into the fermented abyss after attending a fermentation workshop led by a friend from the farm.

Tantre Farm, where I worked last growing season, has been the birthplace of many great things, including The Brinery, a business started by David Klingenberger, specializing in fermented vegetables produced using the process of lactofermentation, as outlined in Wild Fermentation, along with how to make kombucha, miso, beer, sourdough starter etc.  Through my position at the co-op, I was able to help facilitate a workshop lead by David and took some photos during the class.

People came. People learned. People brined.  And it was good.  

Thursday, March 10, 2011

Universal Mysteries

A friend posted a link to this cool public art project in New Orleans: Before I Die . . .  The artist installed a chalkboard on a neglected building to form an interactive wall with the words "Before I die I want to . . ." repeated and a place for the viewers to fill in their own answers.  The same concept was used in a gallery installation, but I love the idea of putting this out on the street.

Empty spaces on city walls are often filled up with ads (thanks, capitalism) that instill feelings of discontent, inadequacy, and a false sense of who we are and should be in life, and this project does the opposite; It shows us that we are not so different.  We all have the same core values and needs in life (except for the guy who said he wanted to be "tried for piracy" before he dies.)  But even the differences that this project points out display them in a way that is celebrated, as it should be.  It also speaks to the brevity of life and encourages us to focus on the things that are truly important (like not forgetting your own Mother's birthday, as I did last week . . . terrible offspring.)

This project reminded me of an activity I did with my students when I was teaching a small class for college freshmen.

Monday, March 7, 2011

How to: Up-cycled Cardigan

Eventually, it happens to us all . . . we become our mothers.  There's just no stopping it.  It's an inevitability, a force beyond our control.  For me, one of the many ways this manifests is as a love of cardigans.  Every once in a while, I get an urge to try to thwart my frumpy destiny by making my cardigans more fun.  Here are some tips on how to do it yourself. . . .

The Old T-shirt Way:

Thursday, March 3, 2011

Recycled T-shirt Purse

Holy scrap fabric, Batman!  This weekend was super crafty.

This surge of crafty super-power was fueled by my happening upon Lee Meredith's website, or should I say sites because she has several dedicated to her various pursuits (an ADD crafty friend. . .I'm not alone in the world).  I was so inspired that I went a little crazy. . .I made 3 purses (as per Lee's Recycled T-shirt Purse Tutorial), one tank top, re-vamped a boring cardigan, and started a knitting project.

Here are some photos of the purses I made with her tutorial:

They make nice bags to carry around a knitting project.

If you think that sounds like a full load, check out her website, do stuff, which includes her knits, up-cycled clothes, paper and fabric art, jewelry, photography, hand-spun yarn, and a plethora of aesthetically inspired small projects.  If it weren't for the fact that she probably doesn't live in Michigan (and that I'd be a super creep for suggesting it) I think we could be BFFs!

Friday, February 25, 2011

10 Lessons from a Designer

I believe this is what you would call re-blogging . . .
These are some insightful and thought-provoking lessons from Wieden+Kennedy’s Executive Creative Director, John C Jay: 10 Lessons for young designers.
1: Be authentic. The most powerful asset you have is your individuality, what makes you unique. It’s time to stop listening to others on what you should do.
2: Work harder than anyone else and you will always benefit from the effort.
3: Get off the computer and connect with real people and culture. Life is visceral.
4: Constantly improve your craft. Make things with your hands. Innovation in thinking is not enough.
5: Travel as much as you can. It is a humbling and inspiring experience to learn just how much you don’t know.
6: Being original is still king, especially in this tech-driven, group-grope world.
7: Try not to work for stupid people or you’ll soon become one of them.
8: Instinct and intuition are all-powerful. Learn to trust them.
9: The Golden Rule actually works. Do good.
10: If all else fails, No. 2 is the greatest competitive advantage of any career.
My aunt is an architect and designer and I know she holds true to almost all of these and has a successful creative business.    Here's a link to her work: Hayes Architecture and Interiors.

Wednesday, February 23, 2011

Daily Photo Project #1

Ok.  Here goes.

I've been giving some serious thought to embarking upon a year-long daily photo project, and today I just decided to go for it.  As daunting as this sounds, there are many things motivating me to do it right now, namely the opportunity to grow as a photographer.

Ever since I was introduced to James Kochalka's American Elf, an amazingly simple and awesome and beautiful daily web comic, I've been noticing moments in my daily life that I want to point out/remember/express.  As a collection, American Elf is simple and poignant and SO inspiring, creatively speaking.  Here's the first one EVER all the way back in 1998 (and he's managed to keep doing it to this day!)

 I doubt that I'll be able to keep up this project as long as James has, but I had I similar feeling today as in this comic.  Here's my first photo to get things kicked off, but you can keep up with the project on my Flickr page: My Photostream

Monday, February 21, 2011

Beauty in an Elevator

I watched this video a few months ago from a friend who posted it on Facebook and it has stuck with me ever since.  I even wrote a poem about it to try to figure out what was so beautiful about this project.  But I'll let you figure it out for yourself. . .

Future Shorts: Lift

Saturday, February 19, 2011

The Illusionist

We saw "The Illusionist" the other night and I can safely say that it's one of the best things I've seen this year, or maybe ever.  Here's a link to info and clips: The Illusionist

Not only was it visually striking but the story was beautifully crafted.  There were hilarious moments and really poignant and sad aspects but it wasn't heavy-handed. Pretty poetic in that way.  I was totally immersed in the world by the end. Highly recommend it!

Friday, February 18, 2011

Creativity and the Self

There's an article in the current Yoga Journal about pleasure in yoga practice by Sally Kempton, and there's a bit about creativity as one of the 5 basic levels of pleasure that are necessities for balanced life.  The 5 she gives are pleasures we get from sensual pleasure, loving intimacy, purposeful action, creativity, and of immersion in spirit (what you get at as a result of a yoga practice).

She defines creativity as more than just creating an object.  Rather, it includes the feeling of inspiration that results from a creative idea and discusses the physiological impacts on the brain.  All the the actions she mentions trigger the pleasure centers of the brain sending dopamine and serotonin to the cortical area.  But there is also a divine aspect of this moment of inspiration that speaks to the universality of the creative impulse.

Seed Stitch Cowl: Free Pattern

It's not often that I hope for winter to last longer, but I did while I was making this cowl. Months ago I told my dear friends Molly and Lindsey that I'd make them cowls, but (as usual) I got a little distracted with other projects.  Anyhoo, this one's for Molly and I bet it will make all the hipsters on the L train she takes back to Bushwick super jealous.  (Don't worry, Linny.  Yours is in the works and Boston will be cold for a while, I think.)

I didn't knit this one in the round but it still looks good turned on its side because seed stitch looks good on a piece whether it's upright or turned on its side.  So it's basically like knitting a scarf but you'll weave the ends together at the end.  You could also knit this in the round with size 17 circular needles and you'd have no seams, but you'd cast on the amount to go around the whole circle.

Creativity Road Block #1: Defining Yourself

You were fine.
Then you defined yourself.
Now, you need to de-define yourself.
Then you'll be fine again.

Thursday, February 17, 2011

Reading Photos like Text

I've read in many places that when you look at an image your eye naturally reads it from left to right.  I always thought this made sense because that's how we read text, of course.  (What about people whose first language is one that does not read left to right?  Do they read images the way they read text?  I guess that's an issue for another post).  This concept can be applied to deciding on the composition of an image.  It's helpful to know how the eye reads a photo to know how you should position the various elements of the shot.  For example, as is discussed here: How to Use Lines, when considering how to position a diagonal line the best way to present them is to start from the bottom left corner running to the right at some angle.

How powerful this phenomenon really is became apparent to me when I was editing the other day.  While I was out shooting with the concept of lines in mind I took these photos:

Converging and diagonal lines are utilized. 
Some nice elements, but not the most powerful image, especially since your eye is drawn to the end of the hallway, but there's not much going on once you get there.  Kind of anticlimactic.    

Check out the next shot, though and see if you notice a difference in interesting-ness.

Wednesday, February 16, 2011

Need to Keep it Real? Wear Yellow Pants

Whenever I'm in danger of taking myself too seriously, I try to wear something slightly outrageous to remind myself that life really is no big deal.

Yesterday, my tactic was yellow pants.  Bright yellow, corduroy pants with my snow boots that are too big.

These guys definitely aren't taking themselves too seriously.  
Also, this is amazing because it was an ad for JCPenny back in the day.  Note the labels.
My yellow pants were liberating.  I walked more freely, not trying to uphold something, and it seemed to give others permission to so do, too.  People smiled at me more, nodded hello, and less people asked me if I wanted one of their fliers about a new sleazy club or mediocre restaurant (maybe because they thought, "She's wearing yellow pants.  She's no sucker.")

In conclusion, wear yellow pants to instantly brighten your day and feel more confident and creative.

Tuesday, February 15, 2011

Photography Elements: Converging Lines

Many great photographers were self-taught, and even though there are some elements of photography that have been intuitive for me, I (obviously) have a lot to learn.  In the absence of structure, I've given myself assignments to explore different aspects of photography.  I started off with Lines.

Vertical, horizontal, diagonal, curved, converging; lines can be useful elements of composition, if utilized thoughtfully.  It is this moment of making a choice about how to compose an image that is one of the things that separates a lifeless snapshot from a more powerful image.

When I set out to shoot with the idea of utilizing lines, I found that I looked at things very differently.  I discovered new niches of my own town just by looking for particular things to photograph.  I reviewed the images later and found that I was particularly drawn to take pictures with converging lines being the main element.  I did this inadvertently and only realized later that it was something I was drawn to.

Digital Photography School talks about Converging Lines in this post: How to Use Converging Lines to Enhance Your Photography

Here are some of my photos in which converging lines are utilized:

Sunday, February 13, 2011

How To: Unravel a Sweater

"Why, of all things, would you want to unravel a sweater," you may ask.  To which I would say, "How many ugly sweaters are there in one thrift store?  Answer: a lot.  And how much do you think all that yarn would cost if you bought it new?  Answer: probably about 4 times the price!"  So, of course you'd want to unravel a sweater if you want the yarn to make other, less ugly things.

Yes, unraveling a sweater for the yarn does take more time than buying a skein of yarn, and yes, it can be a bit messy, with little fluffs ending up all over the house for a couple of days.  But for the money you'll save and extra creativity kudos you get for knitting something beautiful out of discarded goods, I think it's worth it.  


The Blister Popped

In 2010, I worked on an organic farm and even though the work was hard, the hours were long, and free time was almost non-existent, I felt more creative than ever before.  I thought of all sorts of photos to take, ideas for concepts to connect them, I wrote poems, played music, and philosophized about the nature of things.  I'm not sure why this burst of creativity happened, but I don't doubt that it was due to the combination of the inspiring people I was with, the satisfaction I got from hard work and dirt under my nails and in my skin, and the very fact that I was working outside all day, everyday.

I recently heard of an interesting theory called "Earthing."  From the little I understand about it, I believe it purports that much of the dullness we experience in our daily lives, both mental and physical, is due to the fact that we have lost our connection with the earth.  I suppose my experience of increased mental and physical vitality and creative spirit while working on the farm would be evidence in support of this theory since I worked barefoot almost everyday for 8 months (not without some sacrifices made by my skin).

Here's one of the poems that came during this period of creative drive:

The Art Instinct

In trying to understand the traits that pervade humanity, we often look to the past.  Throughout human evolution we have created more than just objects of necessity, and there are many who have explored this concept deeper.  A book by Denis Dutton combines art and evolutionary science to try to claim that the creative impulse and art itself is not socially constructed, but rather innate.

The Art Instinct by Denis Dutton (left)

Here's a student essay reflecting on some of Dutton's claims:
The Art Instinct: Evolving Creativity

In my own life, I find evidence that the impulse to make things has been a part of me always.  Like most kids, I made little drawings, paintings, ugly things with glue and dried beans, but unlike some, I've continued to explore my world through these small pursuits into adulthood (if you can say that I'm an adult).

I see it in the kindergartners I teach: whenever there's a spare moment in the day, they want to draw, paint, pretend, or build.  The same is true in my life, and I guess Dutton would argue, in all of our lives, if we allow it to manifest.