Tuesday, December 22, 2009

merry christmas.

I prefer winter and fall, when you feel the bone structure of the landscape - the loneliness of it, the dead feeling of winter. Something waits beneath it, the whole story doesn't show.
~Andrew Wyeth

this time, next year.

I am really missing Paris and London lately. Yesterday my husband said, "I wish we were in our little flat" - referencing a flat he rented 3 years ago with a view of the Basilique du Sacré-Cœur.

This photo hangs near our bed so that we see it every day:

I understand it's snowing in Paris this year, but yesterday, three years back, my husband and I got engaged near the Seine river. It was very, very cold and clear and absolutely magical. He proposed on the winter solstice, the darkest day of the year, and we shared a bottle of champagne at a restaurant, funnily enough, called the Equinox.

On that trip, among the Christmas decorations we saw, were these flocked Christmas trees sold on street corners:

As far as I know, these trees were real. There is nothing like a real tree and the smell of pine or fir, which is one reason, I suppose, we've never bought an artificial tree. However, this year we were concerned about being "green" and attempted to buy a live, potted tree. We ran into several hiccups: (1) Local stores had limited quantities and tended to quickly sell out and/or despite all my work at the gym, I couldn't carry the tree without help (dirt is heavy); (2) We would need to find somewhere to donate the tree (I was told school districts were a good place to start); (3) Many of the trees were Juniper, which my husband is allergic to.

So. In the end, my husband went out to find a potted tree that he could carry on his own and came home with a cut tree - a lovely 6-foot Noble Fir. Christmas trees can be recycled and mulched into fertilizer, after all.

However, were I to go artificial next year (and I'm speaking for myself because I'm pretty sure my husband would draw the line at a "cashmere pink" tree), I might be inclined to go all the way, in the spirit of the Parisians, with one of these tinsel trees (sold at Target):

Or, to be really crazy, how about a tinsel palm tree?

Or, and I think my favorite, are these aluminum, vintage trees, which can be found on ebay.

I've seen some more modern versions in people's windows that are just frames strung with lights. A bit austere, but pretty at night.

And, I have to say, I missed out on the Bay Leaf wreath this year, but... not next year. This one is from Williams-Sonoma:

Friday, December 18, 2009

warmest winter wishes.

(As seen on Rachel Ashwell's Shabby Chic blog)

When the propensity for excitement is high, so too is the possibility for disappointment. I generally like holidays and having some tradition. It mixes things up. And the holidays provide a good excuse to be both more decadent and more restrained, and also more charitable.

I have been trying since December 1st to get a Christmas tree and, for various reasons, we still we do not have one. And we missed my company holiday party. And, with my holiday card plan foiled, I am still scrambling to send out a helter-skelter mix of holiday cards.


I got a non-holiday card in the mail the other day that reminded me why I love greeting cards: a card that is sent when one isn't expected, hand-written with a very specific message. It made my day, and if that's not holiday spirit, I don't know what is.

So the holidays aren't going as planned. But in lieu of a tree and decorations, we've been doing wintery, cozy things like staying in to watch movies and cooking elaborate dinners. Instead of Christmas music I've taken up opera. Maria Callas on sunny, cold mornings. And (ahem, dear husband), there has not been a hot buttered rum to speak of, but that will soon be remedied. I haven't found Christmas where I was looking for it, but all things said and done, there has been plenty of cheer. Happy holidays.

Friday, December 11, 2009

in print.

I currently have a short story in Slush Pile literary magazine: here.

My husband calls it my "sci-fi story," although for people who truly love science fiction, it will probably be a disappointment. I was hesitant to put it out into the world because it's different than other things I'm writing or have written. The story deals with the hypothetical disappearance of birds in the nearish future.

The truth is, I read far more short stories than newspaper articles, for better or worse, and I learn things (or don't) in each. For me, the one begets the other. The process of writing often prompts me to begin researching, to learn new things about the world, and to look closer, sometimes, than I otherwise would.

While I was writing, I came across this digital illustration by Fooka Designs, entitled "No Place to Call Home":

The print hangs above my desk.

But the original inspiration for my story came from this article by Jonathan Franzen: Letter from the Yangtze Delta, “The Way of the Puffin” in the April 21, 2008 edition of The New Yorker. In the essay, Franzen goes to China to inspect a factory that makes toys but notes, along the way, how few birds he is able to spot. Somehow that sparked something in me, an "Imagine if" sort of scenario. I was mostly amusing myself at the time, but when I got to be more serious about it, I had a hard time tempering an imaginative vision of the future world with what might actually be possible. At times I felt I was under-doing it, and at other times, going overboard.

But just this last week, my husband sent me this link to photos of pollution in China, and they are as terrible and sad as you might imagine they would be - for the environment, and for the people. My story is not really about industrialism or environmentalism, and it's not meant to be political or advance any sort of agenda. That said, I want to include these other links because they're examples of real reportage of things really happening.

Thursday, December 10, 2009

send a card to soldiers overseas.

Regardless of your politics, this is a pretty nice thing to do.

The Xerox Let's Say Thanks Program takes cards designed by children and lets you select and personalize one, which Xerox then prints and sends to a member of the US Armed Forces. The process is very, very easy. All they ask is to enter your first name, city & state, and to select from one of quite a few pre-written messages of thanks.

It's not a Christmas card, and you may lean fervently toward pacifism (as I do), but my brother served in the Navy, and risked his life at times, and I am very thankful for his service and his safety.

Sunday, November 29, 2009

all that glitters...

Real Simple magazine and I have some gift wrap ideas in common this year: ditching traditional ribbons and bows in favor of a single, statement-making piece like a flower or feather (or anything decorative, really).

Since I used up my leftover wrap last year, I was free this season to go hog wild, and I did. I bought everything I liked: prints in all colors, and glitter wrap in white and hot pink. It's uncharacteristic, but this year I am all about the shine. I even wore sequins to Thanksgiving.

I also found string with little pom-poms at Arch that somehow said "Christmas" to me (reminiscent of snowballs, maybe?), as well as glittering leaves at Michaels craft store. Once I saw the glitter, my inner three-year-old surfaced and I began grabbing fistfuls.

Sparkle can be hard to resist, and at 29 cents each, these leaves are arguably cheaper than a traditional bow, and certainly more statement-making.

progress report.

I must admit that I underestimated the challenge that it would be to get a letterpress up and running in roughly 3 months - and during my spare time. I bought the press in August and self-imposed a deadline, which was to print Christmas cards before, well, Christmas. While the deadline kept me motivated me to keep buying supplies, there have been other dependencies I didn't count on. I'm hearing silence from vendors about re-covering my rollers, and the boxcar base I ordered... still back ordered. Since my press is a little bit less common than other presses of its type, it involves some special sizes and rarer parts. Also, since I work full-time and have other obligations, I'll admit that I haven't always been dogged about following up.

What I have done in the meantime is to buy paper. And definitely more paper than I'm showing here. In order to buy paper wholesale, it's often bought full-size: 8.5 x 11. Card makers use large paper cutters to cut paper down to size, and a bone folder to score them (fold in half). At this stage, I'm buying paper pre-cut and scored, which means the paper is more expensive. But I still have a lot to learn about what kind of paper I like using, and which works best with my press.

So I've been looking around to see what's on sale. I was able to buy up some A2 folded cards and envelopes in pale pink ("Blush") that Paper Source was closing out (this is the same paper I used for our wedding Thank Yous), and some fun, long fuchsia envelopes. At another store, I got a whole box of recycled brown paper envelopes and cardstock made of bamboo. Most recently, I bought very some fine, thin Italian paper and envelopes in a nice eggshell color from Cavallini & Company's annual warehouse sale.

The piles of paper have, in turn, led to some very late 'spring cleaning' at our house.

The recent Cavallini & Co. sale was, in particular, very fruitful. I bought a little of everything they sell, I think: journals, gift wrap and tags, rubber stamps, stickers, note cards, etc. These glittering holiday postcards might just have to be my backup Christmas cards.

Sunday, November 15, 2009

the stories within.

It's like someone at Anthropologie read my blog...

(Don't I wish!) But here's a few images from the November 09 catalog. More paper trees from recycled books:

It's been a busy weekend. I guess they all are lately, and now I'm procrastinating on some fellowship applications, but am rather proud of myself for going into Anthropologie today and not buying any clothes (socks don't count!). They did have, however, a cookbook from The Hummingbird Bakery, located on Portobello Road in London, where I had the best cupcake - pink vanilla marshmellow - and now I have the recipe! Perhaps, if I finish what I am supposed to be doing, I can make some.

**Post-post update (11/16): One day later, the Chronicle Books Blog is also featuring the Anthropologie catalog. Am I a trendspotter or what? Actually, the scoop I recently learned at a BBQ this past weekend, where I met an employee of Anthropologie, is that they just launched a new blog called The Anthropologist. It was described to me as being similar to the much-loved The Sartorialist, although a quick look reveals: "The Anthropologist is an online space for inspiring works and inspiring individuals." For example, Jane Campion's virtual production scrapbook from her film Bright Star (which I still want/need to see), is posted there. Quite lovely.

Saturday, November 14, 2009

paper flowers.

This last week we celebrated Veteran's Day - Remembrance Day - or Armistice Day. The Flickr blog posted this collection of images, which I thought were lovely, albeit humbling, and sad, and sobering.

I love real flowers, but this is certainly an alternative. Whatever your politics, I'm glad there's day to remember and to thank those who have served, risked or given their lives.

The images above reminded me of the paper flower kits from Paper Source, which someday I may try to construct. I've never known what I'd do with these, but I am liking the idea of found-object chandeliers lately, and so maybe a falling, paper-flower chandelier can be added to the list of someday-projects.

Friday, November 13, 2009

falling in love with fifi lapin.

Sfgirlbybay guest blogger anh-minh wrote yesterday about decorating one's house with fashion illustrations, cheaply found second-hand. At the bottom of her post she also included some other illustrations, including this:

If you know me at all, this is pretty much the best fashion illustration I've ever seen. Immediately I followed the links to the Fifi Lapin Shop.

Lapin is French for rabbit. Here at home with me, I have an 11-year-old rabbit named Simon. I think Simon could have a little crush on Fifi and her cute outfits.

Fifi also travels:

Moreover, while you can purchase nice prints of these illustrations and photos, you can also purchase ... yes, greeting/post cards.

As my final aside, I've also had my eye on this rabbit illustration by eekdesign on etsy:

I'm trying to think of what Simon would wear if he wore clothes... I think maybe a cool old-timey hat.

Tuesday, November 10, 2009

theories of relativity.

I'm having a lot of creative firsts lately. Not first-ever kind of experiences, but first-in-a-long-time types of things.

And I learned the hard way, this weekend, that I had the wrong type of paint for the particular object I wanted to re-paint in our apartment, and reminded myself, by trying, that I was never any good at acrylic or oil painting on canvas.

Photography-wise, I'm playing with new cameras, but also using older cameras in new ways. I shot color film on a manual SLR that I've only ever used to shoot black and white. I thought the light meter was broken but the roll turned out basically okay. On their own the pics aren't fantastic, but I like the way they look when put together:

Sunday, November 8, 2009

visual acoustics.

Props to my husband for knowing about this film and suggesting we go see it. We actually saw Visual Acoustics on its opening night at the Shattuck Cinemas in Berkeley. Subsequently, the film has also opened in San Francisco.

It was one of those nights where best laid plans went awry, and it was actually the second time within a month that my plans to have dinner at Angeline's Kitchen and then see a movie at this theater have been thwarted. First there was Friday evening traffic on a rainy night, then the restaurant was teeming with patrons and there was too long a wait. So we went to Beckett's Irish Pub instead, and by the time our appetizer and salad finally arrived, we had 3 minutes - literally - to chow down and get the check. It was not the relaxing night we wanted to have and tension was mounting. It took us more like 8 minutes to wrap up our pseudo-dinner of garlic fries and spinach salad.

We'd bought the movie tickets online, earlier in the day, and once again had to wait in line at the box office to pick them up. By the time we got into the theater, the movie had already begun and... drumroll please... there were no seats. I mean it, not a single seat in the house except for some large bean bags directly under the screen. What to do? There was actually a pool of people standing in the back because the theater had most definitely oversold tickets to the film. The manager said the only way we could have a refund was to leave. Instead, we sat on the floor, at the top of the center aisle and made the best of it. It'll be one of those experiences we look back on fondly, perhaps, in later years because it was something different. The time we sat on the floor.

We were, after all, on the hunt for inspiration. And we found it.

The film is about architectural photographer Julius Shulman, who made his career - and really pioneered the career of architectural photography - by taking pictures of the work of modernist architects. This includes the most notable Frank Lloyd Wright. The film follows modern day Shulman (recently deceased) as he returned to sites he'd once photographed, re-met architects he once worked for, and as he watched the Getty Museum pack up and move his entire life's work from his home to their archives - for posterity, but can you imagine?

The film reminded me of how interrelated things are: architecture, design, photography, engineering, etc. Many modernist architects were mindful of the landscape on which they were building and some of the more unique designs must have been feats of civil engineering. Shulman's photographs really did justice to the buildings and, as the film suggested, made a space look better than it was - which is maybe what most artists try to do: make life better, more beautiful, and more livable than it sometimes feels.

Sometimes the only time we notice design is when it's bad. For me, most often, I notice design in public restrooms, when stalls in an airport are too large or small, or when the paper is just out of reach. (And don't even get me started about modern tract homes!) Or this particular movie theater, as it were.

A lot of the modernist homes have a dated feeling - the boxy, clean lines, the simple materials - and don't always appeal to my aesthetic. At least, they didn't until I realized how much of the design was concerned with the way light would pass into the home and where it would fall. By contrast, many of the modernist public buildings are truly beautiful and often large and striking and strange. e.g. the Guggenheim.

Yesterday, the morning after the film screening, I met up for lunch with a girlfriend, her daughter and husband, and learned that her husband's job had something to do with looking for hazards - toxins, chemicals and other dangers - in things designed and built. New technology and new ways of doing things contain risk, and I guess it's his job to scientifically mitigate these risks; another unseen partner in those things designed and presented to the public to consume or inhabit. The things we don't think about by the time we stand in a space already constructed. It was Shulman's job to find the best way to look at these spaces, to put the viewer in the room with him. He was, essentially, selling the building, the architect, the principles. And he believed in the product because when post-modernism came along, he quit.

Shulman himself was inspiring. One thing I really liked was that he said that if there was something in the shot that he didn't like but couldn't change, then too bad. You have to work with what you have.