Father's Day Memories
So, here was the problem: a solid back door connecting to our garage from a multi-functional, very busy alcove in the house. You see the washer/dryer combo on the right; on the left is the panty that holds pretty much all dry foodstuffs.
Morning, noon and night, when people were coming and going, doing laundry, and preparing a meal, that's when it would happen. BAM!! Sometimes two but often three doors would bang into each other, along with the people manipulating them.
We lived this way for seven years.
The Solution: Visibility
The obvious solution would be to install some sort of a glass door, right? But we had to be careful. We keep a clean garage, but in the end it is a garage. A clear pane of glass would give way to a beautiful vista onto . . . my car.
So we had to come up with a screen of some sort. We had used rice paper on a solid pane front door in the past , so we had some left over -- just enough for the classic nine-pane half-door we found at Lowe's, in fact.
(A little aside: fire code says that the doors leading to a garage must be metal and fireproof. Obviously, we opted to ignore this precaution, since our master bedroom is right over the garage of our townhome. Our notion is, if there's a fire, we're goners anyway. We did keep the metal door for the next owners.)
The Installation: Simple as 1-2-3
The first step was to cut nine rectangles the size of the individual panes. I measured, and cut a bit large -- there's time for trimming and other adjust ments later.
The next step was deciding on a design pattern. I knew I wanted something that let light in, but obscured the view. I wanted to be able to see, not full figures, but shadows -- enough to keep from getting my head knocked one more time. I also liked the idea of being able to use a lamp in the garage at night to shed some light on the darkish alcove.
I used a freeform design I've used before. It's really lines and globules cut out of the center of the rectangle. For me, it has enough repeat to look purposeful and enough variety to look creative. After cutting, I fitted paper to the panes using cello tape temporarily, adjusting the design and matching the centers.
The Miracle of Fabric Starch
Here's the really easy part: Any grocery store carries regular old liquid starch -- or at least they do in my part of the country, where pinatas are plentiful. A gallon jug is inexpensive and goes a long way.
I used to dilute the starch for projects like this, but now I just use it straight up. As you can see, I pour a quantity into a shallow flat pan, then just drag the pre-cut pieces through the starch. It is messy, but cleans up with water, whether on your hands, your floor, or the window itself.
I work from a laid-out version of the pieces in the right position, so that there's no confusion. One piece at a time, I apply the soaked rice paper piece to the inside of the window. You'll be glad to know there's a little "give" to the paper, and you can adjust it for a while. Don't worry about any overage on the edges -- you can go back with a straight edge razor once it dries and clean up.
As you can see, the finished application does just what we had hoped: lets light in and provides enough visibility to avoiding traffic collisions at the back door. Lord knows, we have enough run-ins as it is!
It wasn't too long after Beyond Her was born that I started hearing the phrase "indie design." I was grateful, because I'd been wondering how to describe my new community. This seemed to sum it up: like indie films, indie design existed outside of the normal go-to-market channels. Most of us struggled to find suppliers, materials, and supporting artisans that could help our companies grow.
Over the years that has changed. More and more "makers" have emerged, making more and more interesting creative products.
As with Beyond Her, some of the items are not precisely "hand-made," but there is a distinct design, a story behind the manufacturing process, and a vision that people intrinsically seem to appreciate.
Show & Tell
If you are an artisan today, you have lots of options in terms of getting your products in front of viewers. Are they effective? Let's just say that Etsy, the hands-down winner of online handmade portals, sold $100.9 million of goods were sold (after refunds and cancellations) in July alone. That's a lot of DIY!
So I was happy to read this recent article in Forbes magazine. "How the Maker Movement is Reinventing Retail" discusses the growth of Etsy, but also the effect of companies like Shapeways, an online 3D printer that allows anyone to cheaply manufacture their own designs, either to sell or for their own personal use
Here's what this means to me: In an odd sort of way, we are going through another industrial revolution. We are using machines, not to stamp out millions of identical products, but to add diversity and choices, as opposed to just accepting what giant retailers tell us we should like.
So. even for indie designers, technology has paid off, big time. And creativity is a democracy.
I read the New York Times almost every day online, but I must admit I have a bit of a routine -- I read the same sections, in almost the same order -- and I definitely have to set a time limit. This is literally against every rule for living creatively. So, admittedly, I may miss some things.
Someone I spoke to recently (who? can't remember) suggested that he always found something interesting by gleaning the "Most E-Mailed" list that they publish every day.
Sure enough, the first time I tried it, I found a fascinating article about a 100-year-old brand, L.C. King Manufacturing Co. in Bristol, Tennessee, a struggling clothing factory that has recently, and almost unknowingly, become a favorite supplier among hipsters and Japanese designers.
For all these years, L.C. King has produced Pointer Brand, its own line of work and hunting clothing and accessories, but now they're creating private label jeans and jackets, right there in their 100-year-old factory. Clients talk about the "zen" of the place as well as the high quality of the products. There's a story there.
As someone who has tried hard to buy US-made goods -- everything from dish towels to calendar frames -- this "discovery" is fantastic news.
I can't tell you how disheartening it was to look up global producers of cotton textiles and see how many American companies have gone out of business in the last few years. (For the full story, read "The Travels of a Tee Shirt in a Global Economy, by Peter Rivoli, 2008).
And I will say that when I did find an American (usually family-owned) supplier, our relationship was instantly warm, friendly and flexible. We got each other. I want more of those.
The article also referred to a fantastic website directory of all American-made goods: Maker's Row. Which means that now I at least have contacts to research for my own small minimums and quirky demands, something I just didn't have before.
Thank you NY Times (and the anonymous person who suggested this diversion) for opening my eyes!
Our waxed canvas tote bags are 100% American made!
Canvas: James Thompson Fabrics, Valley Falls NY
Design & Eco-Friendly Screen Printing: Beyond Her, Houston, TX
Waxing, Construction, Leather: Chris Franks Design, Austin, TX
At roughly 8 x 10 inches, with dirt- and water-resistance and irresistible cuteness, this is the perfect lunch bag, wine tote, carry-all for odds 'n ends!
And it looks great with a couple of bottles of wine as a housewarming gift or wedding present. Soon to be your favorite bag. See them all here!
The Beyond Her manifesto is pretty simple: "Life is too short for ugly dish towels." But the more I think about it, the more I'm sure this thought needs a major revision.
In truth, life is too LONG for ugly dish towels.
We all know how much time we spend in the kitchen, cooking and cleaning up. Why wouldn't you want to be surrounded by things that you love to see, and like to work with?
Little things like handsome hand towels can make a difference. They provide a kind of decoration that changes with the laundry, and if you're like me, you will often be more in the mood for one towel than another.
And anyone who has spent any time making dinner or doing dishes knows that there are good dish towels and there are bad ones.
The good ones, like ours, are a rich 100% nice cotton muslin, and really soak up water and wash up well. The bad ones, even the cute ones, are shiny, slick and pretty useless when it comes to doing their job.
People often have a regretful reaction Beyond Her kitchen towels -- after they appreciate the hand-dyeing, the original art, the surprising colors, the modern aesthetic. "I could never use these, they're too pretty," they mourn.
Too which I say, dishtowels are not rags.
For god's sake, don't clean up messes with them. Don't wipe up the floor! That's what paper towels are for. Use hand-picked, soul-satisfying, sensual dish towels for your hands and for dishes -- and perhaps for the occasional place mat, bar towel, or gift wrap.
Go ahead - live a little, in the kitchen and beyond. Get a lovely dishtowel!
Right now, living in Houston is like living in a terrarium. And it's going to keep up this temperature / humidity extravaganza for about six more months. So pardon me if I appear somewhat damp - the truth is, anything less than soaking wet is considered perfectly acceptable around here. I'm grateful for every dry moment.
But what I've been looking at, on my daily romps through the lush, tropical woodlands surrounding Houston's bayous, are miraculous wildflowers that seem to thrive in the heat.
One of my favorites is the swamp milkweed that appears about now, in June. Its flowers start like the photo on the left -- purple stems with clusters of bright green pods that hang heavy like clumps of grapes.
A few weeks later, this green-on-green concoction erupts into an explosion of white flowers, and the stems gradually fade from purple to green. The fragrance is intoxicating, and since some of the milkweed bushes where I roam have grown to 12 feet high and 12 feet across, the air is pretty staggering.
The Real Birds & Bees
I don't know where I heard this originally but it's stuck with me -- white flowers are almost always more fragrant because smell is their only means of attraction. Think of magnolias, gardenias, sweet alyssum - even white roses naturally pack an olfactory punch.
A little perfunctory research turned up, not exactly scientific validation of this statement, but at least an acknowledgement that:
Gross, but whatever. All I know is that I like the idea that Mother Nature tries to do the right thing by giving every plant its own set of attraction tools -- which is what she also tries to do with people, I think. Sooner or later, the right nectar-seeker comes along and just dives in, ends up with pollen on its hairy little legs, to be carried to the next flirty flower.
Whoever first exclaimed, "What a world!" really got it right. I love my walks in the world and the wonder they inspire. I also love this poem by dear Mary Oliver, a poet who for 30 years has praised simple nature:
Why I Wake Early
Hello, sun in my face.
Hello, you who made the morning
and spread it over the fields
and into the faces of the tulips
and the nodding morning glories,
and into the windows of, even, the
miserable and the crotchety –
best preacher that ever was,
dear star, that just happens
to be where you are in the universe
to keep us from ever-darkness,
to ease us with warm touching,
to hold us in the great hands of light –
good morning, good morning, good morning.
Watch, now, how I start the day
in happiness, in kindness.”
Read her work.
How to Write a Thank-You Note
My younger daughter's senior year in high school was a little bit of a joke. I admit, I hadn't been paying that much attention -- I thought we had counselors to do that -- but her story was that she had taken all the credits she needed to graduate, and that basically her whole educational responsibility consisted of going to a single English class. One hour, gate to gate.
It was a little disconcerting, thinking that this was the generation that was about to take over the world. She barely got out of bed.
Oh, she did make it to English class, often in what I believe were her pajamas. But were they reading world literature, doing research papers, writing the great teen novel? No. They were learning to write thank-you notes. Isn't that a curriculum appropriate for an eight-year-old?
We went round and round about this, and she won, of course. The real kicker came at graduation, well, really, post-graduation party, when my neighbor made a point of catching me backing out of driveway specifically to tell me that she had received a letter from Afton -- and, goodness, did that girl know how to write a thank-you note! She has never let me forget it.
The Short Course in Expressing Gratitude
I'm going to shorten that last semester for you: writing a thank you note is as easy as 1-2-3.
1. Address the giver / hostess / friend as "Dear" and open the note with a reference to the specific gift or kindness about which you are writing. An example: "Thank you so much for the lovely dinner you treated us to the other night."
2. Add a little something about how much you enjoyed the gift / kindness / hospitality. Something like: "This was the perfect book to take to the beach, and I was hooked from the get-go."
3. Your closing should be something personable and friendly (I look forward to seeing you at our family reunion this summer), and it doesn't hurt to mention your gratitude again. Sign off with something warm -- if not "Thanks again for thinking of me," then something like "Warm wishes." There, it's done!
The Modern Thank-You Note
Some experts want you to embellish your notes with a little news, but I am personally a true believer in the pure thank-you note -- single-minded, purposeful, heartfelt. It works for anything from a large endowment to a light lunch. Keep it simple, I say. But make it prompt.
There's a tendency to write thank-you email,s which is of course technically fine -- but there is NOTHING like a written, mailed thank-you note to show that you are a civilized person, capable of wondrous things -- like finding a stamp and getting to a mailbox.
Seriously, if you've gotten a good thank-you note, you know how much it means. The secret is how little it takes -- although if you want to turn this into a high school semester I'm here to say, it can be done.
Show your distinctive style with clean, contemporary note cards from Beyond Her.
Two unique sets of stationery are available at the Beyond Her etsy shop
Man Speaks: 8 correspondence cards with nature images, in kraft with kraft envelopes
Summer Postcards: 6 postcards on bright white cardstock, self-mailers
When we moved to our contemporary "faux warehouse" home, we loved everything about it but one thing: the front door.
It was the archetypical modern front door you see on all the townhomes -- clear glass with a wooden frame. It does let in light, but let's talk about privacy.
People could see us watching tv literally from the street. And the Texas sun just beat in every afternoon, raising the temperature in the entry about 50 degrees.
Something had to change.
So we looked for new front doors. Waaaaay too expensive, and this was a perfectly solid door that needed a little discretion.
Here was the solution, inspired by a friend's door
and he got it from someone else: I bought a 10-foot roll of rice paper (Kozo paper Speckle, specifically from eshoji.com. It cost about $30 per roll and arrived in about a week. There are lots of patterns and blends, all of them delicious.
I had a contemporary design in mind, but those OCD among you might want to have a pattern of some sort. To create my design (see below) I measured and cut a piece off the roll that would cover the door and the adjoining light entirely. (You'll do better if you let it lay flat overnight -- mind animals). Since you'll be using several pieces of rice paper to create this door, you needed worry about making just one piece fit.
As you can see, I wasn't too concerned about things matching up.
So the other secret ingredient in this project is liquid fabric starch -- the old-fashioned kind used to iron shirts and make pinatas. Believe it or not they still sell it at grocery stores, Sta-Flo being the cheapest and most popular brand.
I watered it down using a one-to-one ratio, and got a cheap paintbrush to dip into a small bucket. I made up about a half-gallon of the stuff, which I loved because it smelled good -- it's not chemical free, but it is made mostly of borax and corn starch.
I expected a mess, but there wasn't one.
I did cover the table I was using with newspaper, so painting the strips of rice paper with the starch solution was simple.
The big surprise was how forgiving the starch was while I was positioning the strips. Want a bit more space? Just slide it on over.
I did start in the middle so both sides got an even distribution. The entire application, which I had set aside the day for, took exactly 45 minutes!
Clean-up consisted of letting the entire door and side light dry for an hour, and then going back with a damp rag and my fingers to get rid of residue. Again, very water soluble and easy.
From the street, utter seclusion, just what we needed.
And from our entry, precious light and many many ways for humans and animals to get a look at the street scene. Sweet.
And the best part? This was five years ago. No peeling, no yellowing, no "I'm ready for real door" whining. So a big score for durability and style and ingenuity, whoever dreamed this up!
Post Reunion Blues
I came across this blog-from-another-era the other day, and I thought it was worth transporting. I think back fondly to my 40th high school reunion, two short years ago. Enjoy.
Laughing It Up: A Guide to Re-Igniting Friendships
I just got back from my 40th (yeah, that's right, count 'em) high school reunion. I wouldn't say I was the typical attendee, seeing that all I remember of my high school years was a daily keystone-cops-like break-out at lunch and shivering smokes in the south parking lot.
I wasn't class president is all I'm saying.
And I pretty much announced before arriving that I had no memory of high school -- so if I stole your boyfriend, snubbed you at lunch, stepped on your toe or copied your outfit, you really shouldn't be mad at me anymore. I was returning with a clean slate.
The first event of the weekend, I will say, was a little awkward because, my god, everyone was so OLD. Literally unrecognizable in many cases. (As my cousin said, "The 40th reunion might be the last one you want to go to.")
But, as I was saying, it really didn't matter who you were, only that you were part of something, together. Once the first hug was thrown, the rest of us joined in.
It could be just because we're all pretty much over it. At 58 years of age, everyone has gone through something traumatic enough to spoil their perception that they are going to sail through life unscathed. Which has made them much more approachable. More human.
My dance club friends (really, who did dance club? only girls who had a collection of leotards and saw deep meaning in Joni Mitchell) and I picked up right where we left off. But a big bonus for me was re-connecting with friends from PRE high school, right back to kindergarten.
There's just something pretty wonderful about closing all those loops. I mean, we knew each other's families, and I have seriously wondered about the parents who were part of my childhood, as well as the brothers and sisters who either tormented us or took us cool places. They are part of who we are.
I actually got misty at the point when I connected with my 3rd grade boyfriend, someone I spent hours on the phone with, and who knew me as well as anyone could know an 8-year-old classmate. I just never thought I'd see him again.
What Makes a BFF?
When I look back on the people I attached myself to from the very beginning, the quality they all have in common is that they had a sense of humor -- big ones.
My fondest memories of elementary school involve a still long-lost girlfriend who was so funny I rarely went home from our after-school adventures with dry pants. My mother, god bless her, never said a thing.
In junior high we had a little more mobility to carry out our high jinx. I actually asked one friend "What did we do, really, because all I remember doing for three years is laughing? Her reply: "We spent the night and on Saturdays we rode the bus downtown. We saw a few movies. We tried to find boys."
Really? Because in my mind I see one hilarious episode after another that look a lot like "Girls Behaving Badly." Someone would start something ridiculous, and we would just riff on it until it was beyond exhausted.
We were young and confident and brave and silly -- and we definitely were self-directed. No parents doing our planning for us. They barely gave us rides anywhere -- we walked. We weren't really in trouble, but we didn't steer clear of it. When I look back, I'm kind of proud of our ingenuity.
After struggling to recall a couple of ridiculous escapades with a high school friend, she said, "That sounds like something you would have thought of." Smile.
Even in my adult life, I have gravitated toward people who find a lot of humor in everyday life, and who are capable of a good belly laugh -- something not too common in grownups these days.
One friend and I who got into some adventures way into our 40's came up with a saying, and when I have time I'm going to needlepoint it onto a pillow:
"It's not a day worth living until you've laughed so hard your mascara has run."
So, before I forget, to all the people who have made me pee my pants, make a fool of myself, miss my ride and ruin my makeup, thank you! It's been a blast!
Going Green with Alice & Mitch
My parents were products of the Great Depression. They took it out on us kids.
“Turn it off, use it up, wash it out” -- we heard versions of this throughout our lives. My dad would blow a gasket if we left a light on in the basement while we ran upstairs for even a minute. “What do you think we’re running here, Pauley (this is what he called me) -- a bank?”
Waste, in our household, was a serious crime.
My parents saved everything: bottles, newspapers, cans, leftovers, rubber bands, packaging, clothing, hangers and paper sacks. And not to get picked up by a carbon-spewing truck, but to use right there in our house.
I remember having to use torn sheets of misprinted invoices from my dad's gas station as our only home notepaperfor decades. On both sides.
Obviously, this was a humiliating way to grow up in the 1950‘s in the USA. I so wanted to be one of the students whose teacher notes were written on paper clearly intended for that purpose. People who actually bought stationery.
Oh, I thought, when I grow up I will never live such a miserly existence! I’m going to buy my rubber bands from a store! I’m going to throw newspapers in the trash! I’m going to let the porch light burn all night long!
But . . . ahem . . . guess who, it turned out, had the sustainable lifestyle?
So here I am, in my mid-fifties reconciling with my eco-friendly past -- which, of course, was not so much about saving the planet as saving money. But, as it turns out, they’re one and the same.
I realize that there are a host of green products and technologies nowadays. But there’s a lot you can do by just living like Alice and Mitch.
Here are some green living tips they taught me:
Cook your own food. Not always, but most of the time. Alice & Mitch hated the packaging that comes with take-out food, which produces a mountain of trash, usually not biodegradable. Plus they hated the wasted huge portions and the processed food offered at traditional restaurants.
Turn out the lights. Okay, you’re just one person, but -- the more electricity you use, the higher your power bill, the more those generators run, the more carbon we burn. You don’t have to live by candlelight, like Abe LIncoln and me, but you don’t have to light up your house like a Christmas tree either (guess who I’m quoting here?).
Re-use your old plastic bags. As a proud citizen of Houston,Texas, I respect the average polymer. And I’m am not about to give up my zipper bags, either. My point is that you don’t need to pull out a brand new bag for your sandwich, leftovers, or wet swim suit, and especially not for your garbage. Use up the all polymers you’ve got.
Use rags instead of paper towels. And by rags, I mean the odd bits of cloth you reclaim from old sheets, towels and clothing. The natural fabrics are super-absorbent, and they offer a nice little trip down memory lane on cleaning day. I love mopping up with my kids’ old pajamas -- if only to remember the superheroes of the 1980’s.
Cut bad bits off fruits and vegetables. If you’ve done any natural gardening, you know that a Snow White apple is rare -- and really the work of agribusiness. Most un-sprayed, un-fertilized produce has little specks, and dents, and even a wormhole or two. Don’t insult Mother Nature by throwing imperfect produce away. Work around it. Like we do with people : )
Probably because of my background, I still hate wasting anything, especially time and energy. I like to believe that keeps me focused. And for this I thank you, Alice & Mitch!
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