Thursday, March 31, 2016

My home this season: March 2016

March came in like a lion and we made a terrarium with what it left behind.

(Wooden pysanky eggs, previously: 1 | 2 | 3 )

Sunday, March 20, 2016

Finished objects: New dish towels, and a defense of downcycling

Upcycling is all the rage these days. Upcycled this and that are so omnipresent on Pinterest, Etsy, and various blogs that for a long time I wasn't even aware that the term "upcycling" was coined along with, and in opposition to, "downcycling."

Briefly, downcycling describes most recycling processes, in which discarded items are transformed into new products of lesser quality, while upcycling involves transforming trash into something better than it was to begin with.

It's hard to argue that upcycling is a good thing to strive for when it comes to industrial recycling, but in everyday life I think the idea of downcycling deserves a second look.

That's because even though it makes me sound like a crank, I have to say that quite a few "upcycled" craft projects strike me as a little bit, well, lipstick on a pig*. (It would be unkind of me to actually point out examples...but I bet you can think of some.)

Instead I think: Why not just accept that with time and use things will get downgraded to lesser purposes, without having to hide the fact that they have become stained or worn?

That is, "creative reuse" doesn't necessarily require fancying things up: Not everything needs to be a silk purse. A sow's ear is good for its purpose. A dishrag doesn't need a doily embellishment.

This is what I had in mind recently when I made some dish towels from an old tablecloth that belonged to my grandparents. It was given to them as a wedding present, so it must be almost 75 years old, can you imagine?

It's pretty threadbare -- even worn through in spots -- and not really in good enough shape to use as a tablecloth, even for a picnic.

But it's super soft and the color scheme is pretty, and I thought the fabric might have some life in it yet.

I might not have dared to do this on my own, but fortunately my mother views her mother-in-law's possessions less reverently than I view my grandmother's. >:-)>  (<--Devil smiley)

This was a very simple project: I just cut the cloth into six roughly equal sections, using the grid pattern of the fabric as a guide, and hemmed the raw edges. I thought about using this project as an opportunity to learn how to make mitered corners...but in the end I didn't bother.

I have to admit that some parts of the fabric are in worse shape than I had realized. I should probably patch some of those holes (NOT with a doily!). So this project might end up being more a meditation on wear and reuse than an actual source of new dish towels.

On the other hand, while the fabric itself may not be in much better condition than our existing kitchen linens, these towels are a lot more absorbent. I prefer them from an aesthetic perspective too, for their soft colors and uniform pattern. Perhaps most of all, I like the way these towels give me the chance to ponder the history of objects as I go about my everyday life.

*Not to be confused with "lipstick on Pig," which is what my daughter heard when she heard me say the phrase recently. Pig, of course, being the name of Ron Weasley's owl. Actually, I think "lipstick on Pig" should be a saying, too. It would mean something along the lines of "gilding the lily," but rather than indicating an attempt to improve on perfection, it would signify an attempt to prettify something for which prettification is irrelevant. So, a cross between "gilding the lily" and "like a fish needs a bicycle." So now you'll know what I mean when I use the phrase in everyday conversation, which I absolutely plan to do.

Saturday, March 12, 2016

Late-winter pick-me-up

(This post contains affiliate links.)

Spring is definitely on the way, but here in Seattle the seasonal transition involves quite a bit of dithering on the part of the weather. Here are four things -- slightly random, but they all hang together for me somehow -- we have been enjoying while we wait out the frigid rain squalls.

1. Julia Rothman's Nature Anatomy (AmazonPowell's )was an impulse purchase, of the "I'm buying this for my kid, no really" variety. In this case though I'm happy to say my daughter actually has gotten good use out of it -- in fact she read it cover to cover as if it were a novel. (There's no narrative to it, it's basically just a series of labeled illustrations of various types of animals, habitats, and landforms, with facts delivered in short captions along the way.) A nice reminder of the gorgeous things out there waiting for us when the season turns, and the gorgeous words available to us in the meantime.

2. I've set myself a goal of reading a book a month this year, inspired by this post from Wait But Why that I mentioned in the comment section of one of my posts a while back. In the post, writer Tim Urban visualizes the number of times he is likely to do various things in the amount of his life that is left to him (assuming -- knock on wood -- a 90-year lifespan). I found the bit about books especially sobering:

"I read about five books a year, so even though it feels like I’ll read an endless number of books in the future, I actually have to choose only 300 of all the books out there to read and accept that I’ll sign off for eternity without knowing what goes on in all the rest."

Even more so because since my daughter was born over 8 years ago I have only read a handful of books. I've plowed through a fair number of New Yorker articles, sure, and quite a few blog posts (of course, it goes without saying, some lovely and thoughtful ones!). But books? Seriously, maybe one per year. (I blame time confetti.) One book per month probably seems like a laughably low bar to some of you, but better to start somewhere.

February's book was The Wolf Wilder (AmazonPowell's), a middle-grade novel about a twelve-year-old girl in late-Tsarist Russia who teaches wolves formerly kept as pets by aristocrats to be wild again, and the struggles that ensue when she and her mother run afoul of the cruel and powerful General Rakov. I recently came across a description of middle grade novels as basically poetry without the pretension -- the idea being that they often contain beautiful language and figures of speech, but you don't have to stress out about whether or not you're "getting it." The Wolf Wilder illustrates that well: "The sky was the blue of winter palaces. The snow stretched, untouched, for miles and the half-grown trees dipped like praying polar bears." You might even begin to wish that winter wouldn't end after all.

For the record, the actual middle-grader in my household also read the book, and she says she liked it, although fair warning: too many animals died for her taste. Some of these deaths occur off-page, as it were, but my kiddo is a sensitive sort; she's been known to abandon more than one book because a character said an unkind word about a cat.

3. On a different note, having exhausted my "log fire" candle, I bought a new one with the new season in mind, smelling of citrus blossoms and tropical fruits: Volcano by Capri Blue (Amazon). I have to admit that I wish it didn't smell so exactly like the inside of an Anthropologie store (mostly because I am embarrassed that I have apparently spent enough time in Anthropologie to have developed this distinct sensory association), but it's a lovely scent anyhow and a nice little sensory treat to go along with reading time.

4. Finally, a museum visit is another nice thing on a crummy weekend day.  I like the Frye Art Museum here in Seattle. It's a great place to visit with kids because it's small, the exhibits are often quirky in a way that engages kids and grownups alike, and admission and parking (in a lot directly across the street) are free, which really takes the pressure off. My daughter and I went there to see a (very abbreviated, as it turned out) exhibit of Russian paintings. I liked watching the expression on her face when I suggested that some of the paintings could be of characters from The Wolf Wilder -- half "Mom, you're so embarrassing" smirk, half delighted smile at the idea.

Leon Gaspard, "Head of a Russian boy" [...or is it Ilya?]

Ilya Repin, "Cossack girl," 1889 [...possibly Feo?] 

Though some might argue the best part of a museum visit is the cafe at the end. I don't think that's quite right, but I'm not above resorting to a little bribery....