Sunday, April 15, 2018

Fox Stitch-a-Long, part 4

So. Much. Foliage. I honestly thought that I would have been able to stitch all of the green leaves during these three weeks. But I was wrong...

I did get the great big green leaf on the right-hand side of the fox stitched, so that's great. And last night it turned a corner -- literally -- and started stitching the green leaves in the center of the piece.

that big leaf on the right? all stitched!
I really love the way the leaves curl, just like real acanthus. Here's a bit of curling leaf:

And a gorgeous specimen of acanthus I spotted today while we were on a day trip.

However, when I attempted to buy a plant at the swanky garden center, they only had the "spiky" and the "white-tipped" varieties. But what's good enough for William Morris is good enough for me: give me the bog standard kind!

There's still so much to stitch here ... given how vividly it's printed, it's easier to see from the back. Here's the backside of the piece with my work light shining through it. So much left to go!!!

By next time I really hope to have the green leaves stitched, as well as half of the blue. To keep me motivated I've joined a stitch-a-long, where my fellow stitchers are making great progress on some spectacular projects. You can see what they're working on on their blogs:

AvisClaireGunCaroleLucyAnnKateJessSueConstanzeDebbieroseChristinaKathyMargaretCindyHelenStephLindaMary MargaretHeidiConnieJackieHayleyTony, and our two newest members, Megan and Timothy!

Friday, April 13, 2018

Cider tasting nerdiness

I've been thinking about this for a while now.

Without going full Wurzel or anything, I am a cider drinker.


No, I don't "drinks it all of the day" or even "every day". But I like trying new ciders and it's my first choice if we are out. I've often thought about creating something to track the ones I have tried and my thoughts. Not that I really have a vocabulary to talk about cider ... but figured I should read up a bit.

Naturally, there's a lot of information about beer and wine tasting ... but I also found quite a bit on cider. So I printed out a bunch of worksheets, took some notes, and put a bunch of scribbles together. And then I did nothing.

The other night Suz and I arranged to meet for drinks after work, and noticed that our local was holding a French "cidre" month. So ... I sketched up my layout, printed it out, and bound it into a little booklet. Yeah, I made one each for me and Suz.

Honest, I do know how nerdy this is. Subscores for appearance, aroma, taste, and overall impression, adding up to 50 points overall.

Suz arrived and we started our tasting. We had two from Lefevre, two from La Chouette, and one from Pierre Huet.

I'm not going to lie, I felt a bit silly trying to describe the "aromas" and not just say "tastes like apple cider".... But Suz -- long-suffering Suz -- dove right in and played along.

I should be clear that we didn't actually drink that much cider -- 4 12-oz bottles plus one 750ml bottle between us. Even the ABVs were low.

Here's how I scored our 5 ciders:

Lefevre Winter Cidre:  28/50 **this may be a "don't score too highly at the beginning** low score
Lefevre Cidre Brut: 24/50
La Chouette Demi-Sec: 42/50
La Chouette Rose: 45/50
Pierre Huet: Cidre Bouchet Brut: 39/50

The La Choquette Rose was the most remarkable; made from pears and red-fleshed apples it was striking in color, crisp and tart, and would be fantastic with autumnal dishes such as roast vegetables. That's definitely one I would go out of my way to find and drink again. The others were, while drinkable, not really striking.

Most of all it was fun to sit around and chat with Suz for a few hours -- and I'm hoping we'll do it again soon!

Oh arr oh arr aay.

Saturday, April 7, 2018

100 days of Ulysses, milestone 1

There are many ways to divide up Ulysses ...

One could take the number of pages, not including the preface or afterword -- 642. To read it in 100 days you could read 6.4 pages per day... or give yourself a little cushion and read 7 pages per day.

You could follow the "100 day challenge" idea of dividing it into thirds, or 214 pages every 30 days, and then allowing yourself the 10 days of cushion at the end.

Most of the "how to read Ulysses" pieces I've read -- okay, I only read one -- suggested that you should try, where possible, to read each chapter in one sitting... though I'm not sure I could get through a 150-page chapter (15. "Circe") in one go! That would mean 6 chapters every 30 days.

But regardless of how one divides up the work.... by pages, by chapters, whatever... I'm behind.

I'm only just over 100 pages in, mainly because I'm simply not making the time to sit down with Leo and Stephen and read. When I do read, I am enjoying it -- increasingly so -- so I hope I'll be more disciplined in the next 30 days!

Tuesday, April 3, 2018

Here There Be Dragons

The other night Wil and I went to a lecture at the UW, part of their "Serious Fun" lecture series. Why? Because we Very Serious About Fun.

The series brings together experts from various disciplines at the university to talk about non-traditional, interesting topics. We missed a talk about Rhythm which featured a poet, a musician, and a historian. We also missed a talk about Mysteries and Secrets which featured a Scandinavian scholar, an astronomer, and a historian. But this talk? Well, it was about DRAGONS.

The first speaker was Robin Stacey, who is most likely my second favorite historian of all time. I studied medieval history with her, and really love her way of teaching and sharing her passion for history. Years back Wil and I went to her Alumni Association History Lectures, where she lectured on Tolkien and blew my mind when she noted that Tolkien was a "war poet" -- like Wilfried Owen -- which really enhanced my sense of Mordor and LOTR in general.

Stacey spoke about dragons and Tolkien, and what they meant to him: "I desired dragons with a profound desire." In short, for Tolkien, while he was of course steeped in the RC tradition of dragons = the devil = devil, he also saw dragons as the essence of Faerie. And Faerie was important *because* it was escapist -- something to brighten dark times.

Then Chris Hamm from the Asian Languages & Literature department spoke about dragons in the Asian tradition -- and just how differently they are seen. In Asia dragons are the zoomorphic representation of heaven -- the divine energy of heaven. He discussed how the Emperor -- who was the "Son of Heaven" -- wore the dragon on his robes, but that often one only glimpses parts of the dragon in Asian art … glimpses of the divine.

And then … the amazing Brandon Peecook, a PhD graduate now at the Field Museum in Chicago, who approaches dragons from a "comparative anatomy" angle. And… well… WOW.

He started off by showing us images to help us understand where some myths come from. My absolute favorite was that the cyclops story:

Might really be spawned from finding a baby elephant skull:

Wild, eh?

Later he turned to the stars of the talk… Dragons.

He showed us gifs of dragons from movies and TV, discussing how they *might* be possible, in nature. Most of them were from Game of Thrones … everyone's (current) favorite dragons.

He showed a picture of a dragon skull from the basement of the palace. Then he showed a T Rex skull -- "clearly the front half of this skull is a T Rex skull … so that's possible."

This is seriously T-Rex-y:

Then he showed us a gif of Drogon blinking, where you could clearly see the nictitating membrane -- you know, the inner eyelid that reptiles have. "It's a tiny thing that most people wouldn't notice … they didn't NEED to do it, but they did, and that's nice."

He showed Drogons legs and feet -- how they have a rear-facing toe like a chicken, and how the legs are clearly T Rex legs. "So, again, that's possible… in nature…"

Clearly those legs are T Rex legs. CLEARLY.

Then he showed a clip of the dragons hovering and shooting fire, and asked where in nature we see something like that. A bunch of people in the audience -- and we were RAPT, by the way -- shouted "Hummingbirds!" … so he replied, "HUMMINGBIRDS CAN SHOOT FIRE?!?!?!?!"

But then he showed us footage of a beetle that can shoot boiling hot hydrochloric acid (Seriously! It's called the bombardier beetle!) and said, "So that's kinda possible…"

But it wasn't all praise for the Game of Thrones dragons... he showed Drogon's forked tongue, which was silly "because snakes use that to stick up into their brain so they can 'smell', and that tongue is way too short, so NO." He also showed us the teeth, but dismissed them simply with "that tooth structure is ridiculous, so let's forget about that."

stupid, stupid teeth!

And then we talked about wings, and how flight has developed three times in vertebrate animals in history. We got birds and bats pretty quickly, and then stalled and he said, "I can't believe you've all forgotten about the pterodactyl!"

We then talked about different wing structures, how bird feathers are really just modified scales, how pterodactyls have one long "finger" to stretch their wing membrane, but that bats have the same hands we do -- right down to the thumb, which they can "walk" on. And Drogon clearly has thumbs, so that's possible...


By then all of us had BOUGHT IN. When I excitedly told my pal Rebecca about the talk she said, "I love it when people love their work so much that they can excite everyone around them." And, yes, now we need to binge watch the past season of GOT to get ready for the final season.

Our next (and FINAL!) Serious Fun lecture features a Classicist, and Artist, and a Cosmologist to discuss how we interpret, measure, and experience the passage of time. Come an join us on April 25 at the UW. Learn more and sign up here.

PS: As an added bonus we got our Sakura on in the Quad. Lovely!!!

Sunday, March 25, 2018

Fox Stitch-a-Long, part 3

I should have known ... after the whirlwind of the foreground flowers and the fox, the leaves would be a big challenge.

I am a huge fan of the acanthus, which always seems to me to be the ultimate William Morris plant. Years ago when I walked the Thames Path I stopped in at Kelmscott Manor and was thrilled to see acanthus growing in Morris's garden. Every time I see them growing I always think I should plant some in our garden, too. Clearly they grow well in Ballard!

Ballard acanthus on a sunny day
Acanthus was first produced as a repeating tile, and then as wallpaper. The Victoria & Albert  Museum describes acanthus as "luxuriantly naturalistic", noting that:
Morris's designs were always subtle, stylised evocations of natural forms rather than literal transcriptions. He warned in his essay 'The Lesser Arts' (1877) against the likes of "sham-real boughs and flowers", and advised those designing wallpapers "to avoid falling into the trap of trying to make your paper look as if it were painted by hand". With a natural eye for pattern, Morris produced papers that not only balanced figuration and order, but which were (unusually for the time) distinctive.
Acanthus repeating tile image from William Morris Tile

Acanthus wallpaper from the Victoria & Albert Museum

Morris loved a patterned wallpaper; if they were too plain he felt your house would always look shoddy:
Whatever you have in your rooms, think first of the walls; for they are that which makes your house and home; and if you don't make some sacrifice in their favour, you will find that your chambers have a kind of makeshift lodging appearance about them, however rich and handsome your movables may be. ~William Morris
I think stitching the pattern really makes me look at the way the leaves are shaped, how they curl back against each other. They're so beautiful... though it has taken me a lot longer than I expected to get through them!

I started with the veins, and then stitched the pale green edging, and then the pale blue edging. I originally thought I would get the green leaves done, but instead did the dark shading on the blue leaves. I finished that this week, and just started the dark shading on the green leaves.

To keep me motivated I've joined a stitch-a-long, where my fellow stitchers are making great progress on some spectacular projects. You can see what they're working on on their blogs:

We're also welcoming two new members -- somehow I missed them, so apologies for the late addition! Welcome Hayley and Tony!

My fellow stitchers are in a lot of different time zones, so if there isn’t a post when you first look, check later in the day. Fancy joining us for the SAL? Send a message to Avis.

Our next stitch-a-long check-in is in three weeks; I really to have the green leaves fully stitched by then.

Wednesday, March 14, 2018

Behind the Wheel: Tales of a Pottery Newbie, part 3

I quit.

There, I said it.

Tuesday night should have been our last pottery class ... but my heart hadn't been in it for a while. I went in on Monday night and collected our last few pieces, wrapped them in our clay-stained aprons, and slunk out of the community center.

I'm pleased that we took the course -- it was something I wanted to do. But as you know I didn't enjoy it much. Still, nothing ventured, nothing gained, and all that. And I did make some things I like.

I was able to find most of the pinch pots I made during the off week, including the one I put colored slip on and carved... before wondering if that was "allowed". I love the way the pigeon-grey clay fires to a bright white. Still, no idea what to do with these, other than perhaps paint them as they are not glazed.

I also found my little trio of tea light holders, and was happy to note that they didn't shrink so much that a tea light wouldn't fit inside. I'll use these, for sure. 

I found Wil's last two bowls, which turned out amazing. He dipped them in red and then chameleon green, and I love the shifting colors. 

Funny that inside is more red, outside is more green.

Also odd that they turned out with more of a satin finish .... almost matte, even, rather than the high gloss of some earlier bowls. The one on the right is the same glaze, a dip of red, let dry, then a dip of chameleon green. But glossy!

And much greener on the inside.

Seriously, isn't this beautiful? I am in envy of Wil's lovely rice bowls.

"Take a Pottery Class" was one of my #101in1001 projects -- and I hope I don't sound too defeatist or disappointed, because we did make some nice things and had some fun doing it. Honest. But I'm also glad we're done. 

What to do with the leftover clay? I've read up, a bit, on firing clay in a backyard barbecue, so maybe I'll make some small little pinch pots to hold candles and see what happens with that. 

In an amusing aside with a happy ending ... on Sunday we went for a hike around Discovery Park ... and on Sunday night I discovered that my driver's license and a credit card I had foolishly stashed in a pocket had been lost. So we cancelled the Visa (which, annoyingly, we had just set up as our main bill payment method for house bills!) and I tried to figure out when I could take the time to request a replacement license. 

Then on Tuesday night I got an email from the Parks Department, hoping that I might be able to find a person with the same last name and address as was in my account, as someone had turned in a lost driver's license! How did they happen to have my email address? Because I had set up an online account with the Parks Department... so I could register online for pottery class. See? It's just clean living!

Friday, March 9, 2018

100 days of Ulysses

When I started my 100-Day Challenge last year, I was chatting to my friend Rebecca online and she started thinking about a reading project:

Rebecca: I could devote 10 days to reading Don Quixote.
O r Ulysses.
Me: We should back out 100 days from Bloomsday next year and read Ulysses then.
Rebecca: That's fun! I've never read it.
Me: Neither have I. Oh, but you'll be cycling through France and should be reading Frenchy French things.
Rebecca: I could read Montaigne for 100 days. That's on my list, too.
Me: We would have to start Ulysses on March 8, 2018
Rebecca: I like that
Me: to hit 100 days on June 16
Rebecca: Even if I read some in France
Me: Just read it with a French accent. Or with French wine.
Rebecca: Or read ahead for 14 days
Me: Frank Delaney's re:joyce podcast says: If you can trick a friend into reading it with you, so much the better.
Rebecca: Ok, that's sorted.
March 8.
I already have a copy somewhere
Me: It *might* be March 9... that would mean June 16 is day 100
I think
I have sent you an invitation for March 9 on google calendar
Rebecca: Ok then!
Eric thinks we are silly
Me: Then he's not invited.
Rebecca: He just does stuff
Me: But we love A PROJECT
Rebecca: We do!

So here it is, March 9 … and it's time to kick this project off. We've been joined by our friend Simon -- who is reading a handsome Modern Library edition, while Rebecca and I are reading the Gabler edition.

I know I won't read every day -- that some days I'll binge, while other days I'll just try to avoid eye contact with the reproachful, neglected book. But I'll get through it! And I can foresee some days spent reading at the pub...

I'll check in again on April 7, May 7, and June 6, and post a wrap-up on June 16... Bloomsday!

Sunday, March 4, 2018

Fox Stitch-a-Long, part 2

I'm really thrilled with my progress so far on the Fox needlepoint -- finishing the foreground leaves and flowers last week, and somehow powering through the fox in just over a week ... which I thought would take a month. (Which, by the way, completes another #101in1001 project!)

I love how detailed this pattern is, and how many shades of yarn I have already used. Just in the fox there are 9 different colors. I love his face:

And along the way spotted a bit of stem I didn't stitch, which I'll pick up when I am working on the background leaves.

yep, missed a bit of stem there!
I love the 3-D affect with this flower and the shadow on the fox's tail.

Next I'll be starting the acanthus leaves -- which makes up the majority of the project.

I'll do all the veins first, then all the pale outlines. And then I'll focus on the green leaves first. I seem to recall that the leaves tend to drag on a bit... To keep me motivated, I've joined a stitch-a-long. I've been inspired by seeing all the amazing projects my fellow stitchers are working on!

My fellow stitchers are in a lot of different time zones, so if there isn’t a post when you first look, check later in the day. Fancy joining us for the SAL? Send a message to Avis.

Our next stitch-a-long check-in is in three weeks; I hope to have the green leaves stitched by then. 

Friday, March 2, 2018

Craftacular finish: a gnome for Wil

I saw a cute pattern in a "Christmas Crafts" magazine last year and thought it would be a perfect little gift for Wil. He often gets a gnome for Christmas, but I didn't get a chance to make him one in time. But I gathered the material -- an old sweater, some fake fur, some Sculpey -- and waited till I had a little time.

Assembling the gnome was super easy -- I just felted the sweater, cut out the pieces, stuffed him with some beans and polyfill, then put him together. Shaping and baking the nose was even easier than expected, too. Rather than buy ultrasuede for the body, I just used more of the sweater.  And I think he looks pretty great -- and not much different from the sample!

I finished the gnome a few days ago, but couldn't blog about it because, well, it was a surprise, I'm tempted to make more... but I'm not sure we need a lot of semi-identical gnomes...

Thursday, March 1, 2018

Reading Darwin: On the Origin of Species

It's World Book Day, so it's only right that this morning I finished Darwin's On the Origin of Species.

As with "Voyage of the Beagle", I listened to the work as an audiobook. I had read "Origin" (or, more completely, On the Origin of Species by Means of Natural Selection, or the Preservation of Favoured Races in the Struggle for Life) in college, but of course that was years ago. I love the cadence of his writing, his repeated turns of phrase. But I also love hearing his tentative thoughts on just why the finches of the different Galapagos islands were different become scientifically sound.

Okay, with over a century of additional study we've learned that Darwin's sketched tree of life isn't accurate:

Not, I hasten to add, because evolution isn't real (sheesh!), but because there is even more crossbreeding between species than is commonly thought -- so discrete evolutionary branches aren't accurate.
... modern genetics has revealed that representing evolutionary history as a tree is misleading, with scientists saying a more realistic way to represent the origins and inter-relatedness of species would be an impenetrable thicket. Darwin himself also wrote about evolution and ecosystems as a "tangled bank". - The Guardian
But I don't care. I still can't wait to get stuck in to reading The Descent of Man later this year. Of course, before then I've got a big, meaty new project: reading Ulysses over 100 days!

While looking for a nice picture of Darwin for this blog post I came across this gorgeous artwork by Gremz, available for download. So good!

Happy to have another item from my #101in1001 project completed! And we're only 59 days in!