Monthly Archives: September 2010

Another Blog You Should Check Out

I have this friend who is a really clever writer and blogs about the things that happen in her life. I read her blog today and decided that my blog would be about her blog. I have a link to it at the right, but I’m putting it below so it’s easy for you all to look at. Read it. It made me laugh and also have a little warm fuzzy at the same time. I hope it does the same for you.

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I, Luddite

Gold Ink On Black Paper

Ink on Paper

The next morning, after I’d given my daughter the drafting set to use for her geometry homework, my son came down and saw the interesting leather box on the table. Opening it, he looked at all the pretties and asked what they were for.

I took out the compass with a pencil lead and showed him how it works, I pulled out the pen, and I explained how the ink would sort of just hang there between the metal. He didn’t seem to think this was very interesting and said, “It looks just like any other pen then.” My feathers ruffled a bit at the idea that this was any ordinary pen! I’d sweated over using the damn thing for hours.

I decided a demonstration was in order. I ran to the art room and grabbed a bottle of gold ink and some black paper so I could show him how it works. (I suppose the fact that I have such materials says something about me to begin with.) I dipped the pen into the ink and drew a series of lines to show how the thickness could be changed from a very thin line to a very thick line. I realized as I was doing it that he could do the very thing without the mess in a matter of seconds on the computer. And, he would know exactly how many millimeters thick the line would be.

“Back in the olden days,” I said, “we didn’t have computers that would draw lines or circles for us. This is how it was done.” I played with the pen a bit more as he wandered off to do something more interesting before school. Then he asked about the cursive writing, which seems to have piqued his interest at least.

When I said something about how happy I was his school still teaches cursive writing and that they don’t do it in our local public schools, my husband was a bit shocked. Call me old-fashioned or call me a Luddite, I don’t really care. I think it’s an important skill that kids need to learn. I like that they learn how to make a bow, write with a pencil and a fountain pen, draw circles with a free hand and throw a javelin. Sure, they’ll catch up with technology when they need to, but there’s something to be said for learning the basics for a strong foundation. And yes…I want them to build a fire from sticks and leaves, too. Anyone can use a match.

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Holding a Memory

When my daughter set up a search for her compass to do her geometry homework the other night, it was nowhere to be found. It took me a long thirty seconds to decide whether or not to go ahead and cop to the fact that I had a way better compass only a few feet away.

I opened the cupboard above my computer and found the black leather case that I had placed there when we moved into the house ten years ago. It is one of those things of my dad’s that I got from him when I was in college. It’s a Keuffel and Esser Drafting set, in the Mercury series. I tucked the black leather case up above me years ago and occasionally look at it just for fun.

When I was taking Howard Rosenberg’s Art 101(or was it 102?) class at UNR, he asked us to create a piece three times; first in pencil, second in ink, and third in three dimensions. In retrospect and after years of therapy, I can say I loved the assignment, but I made it tricky on myself by choosing a pattern that involved tons of half circles spaced a quarter of inch apart. I didn’t realize it at the time, but it was very quilt-like and a precursor, perhaps to some of the current quilt art I enjoy now.

Dad's Keuffel &Esser Drafting Set

The second part of the assignment was a challenge. Drawing a smooth semi-circle with ink is nearly impossible without the aid of a good compass. But, I was at a loss for how to do it in ink. My dad came to the rescue by pulling out his old drafting set that he had used while studying architecture. There are several little pointy ended compasses as well as some that are made to hold ink the old-fashioned way–suspended between two pieces of metal. Did I mention that part of the assignment was to use this old-fashioned sort of inking method?

By the end of the weekend, I was in tears. I had made twelve or so drafts, each of which had at least one blot on it, and I gave up. I cut and pasted the two most successful pieces together. Did I mention that Howard, who apparently is still pissing off students at UNR with his irascible intensity, wanted perfection? Not a blob of ink was allowed. I took the whole collection of botched pieces into class and showed him my cut and paste job. He began to rail at me for daring to cut and paste things together. When I pulled out the whole set of attempts he visibly softened and said, “Well, at least you really tried” before moving onto the next student.

After that, I used the set occasionally, and never as intensely as I did that one weekend I slaved on half circles. It’s a quality set. The metal is probably stainless steel and in pristine condition. The heft of the pieces in the hand is so much more satisfying than the plastic piece I’d gotten via Amazon over the summer. While I’m not willing to hand it over entirely or let her take it to school, I am letting her use it at home.

It’s just…kind of cool to see it in use again. I have things from my mom that I use on a daily basis, like her Dessert Rose dishes. Whenever I use something that came from her, I do think, “Oh. This was Mom’s…she used it…I’m using it and enjoying it now..” and I like that connection.

But, I don’t have so much of my dad’s stuff that I use. Paintings hang on the wall, but they don’t get touched. Bill uses Dad’s kiln on a more regular basis, but I tend to stay away from the pottery stuff. As I watch my daughter look at all the shiny pieces, I imagine what it was like for my dad to get it all those years ago, my own enjoyment from using it, and I find the connection meaningful in a powerful way.

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Home-made Cool Whip?

Every once in a while, a passing comment made by others sticks in my brain and sort of burrows around until I have to write about it. When we were in New York, we stayed at a pretty swank boutique hotel. It was directly across from Lincoln Center and only a long block from where my daughter’s violin camp was being held. (Camp is sort of misnomer since there were no tents and no cabins, midnight raids or canoes.)

Small pool, but still welcome in the very hot August heat.

I chose the hotel for its location and because it has a pool. If you’ve ever traveled to New York, you will have learned that hotels with a pool are rare and far between. Hubby didn’t want me to give Donald Trump our business, so the only other choice within walking distance of the camp was the Empire. So, here we are…on the rooftop of the Empire hotel enjoying a swim in our bath-tub sized swimming pool. At a table close to the pool is a mom and two children who have just been served a dessert from room service. Piled on top is a fluffy white mound of billowing fresh whipped cream.

The kids poke at it. Taste it. Wrinkle their noses and ask,”What is this?” Mommy picks up a spoon and takes a bite and says, “Mmmm….yummmy.” She encourages them to eat more and says, “Oh…it’s good. It’s like home made Cool Whip.” The kids remain unimpressed. The mom continues to eat the whipped cream making the requisite mommy-enjoys-this-you-should-too sounds.

It’s been two months, and I’m still disturbed by the whole concept. I mean…these children prefer Cool Whip to honest-to-god-real-whipped-cream?!?!

When people find the very taste of chemical laden, faked ingredients more palatable than clean wholesome versions of food, we have a problem. Here are the ingredients as posted on the Kraft website:

Ingredients: WATER, HYDROGENATED VEGETABLE OIL (COCONUT AND PALM KERNEL OILS), HIGH FRUCTOSE CORN SYRUP, CORN SYRUP, SKIM MILK, LIGHT CREAM, CONTAINS LESS THAN 2% OF SODIUM CASEINATE, NATURAL AND ARTIFICIAL FLAVOR, XANTHAN AND GUAR GUMS, POLYSORBATE 60, SORBITAN MONOSTEARATE, BETA CAROTENE (COLOR). CONTAINS: MILK.

Real Whipped Cream

“Home Made” Cool Whip, also called Whipped Cream is usually made with…cream, vanilla and a bit of sugar. I’m willing to bet the recipes with the most egregious amounts of sugar don’t even come close to the amount of corn syrup found in the familiar blue and white tubs.

I don’t know why this mom had never given her kids real whipped cream before, nor do I know how she could even utter the phrase, “It’s like Home-Made Cool Whip.” I think that’s why I keep coming back to it. It boggles my mind. I have been buying local and organic as much as possible. The school my kids go to has a real emphasis on healthful foods and a rather strict lunchbox code. Maybe I’m living in La-la land. I think we’d all be better off if we had food with fewer chemicals, simple ingredients and cooked at home, not in a factory.

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A Fair Day

I have to admit I wasn’t really thrilled with hauling my snuffly-nose-achy-head to the county fair yesterday. I’d rather be miserable at home than at the fair. But, it’s a one-time-a-year sort of deal and, I know from experience, waiting until the last day is a bad idea.

A cowboy with an unusual mount.

We waited past the morning rain and headed to Monroe to hit the fairgrounds in time for a latish lunch made of deep-fried and smoked fair delicacies. I started with the deep fried dill pickles remembering some we had with my brother’s family in Atlanta. I put them on the table to share next to the smoked turkey leg and “cowgirl cocktail.” (A melange of pulled pork, baked beans and coleslaw.) It turns out the pickles in Atlanta were much better.

We watched the beginning dog agility course and split up. I was feeling cantankerous with my cold and just didn’t feel sociable, let alone using the amount of energy required to communicate (yell) to say anything to anyone. So I headed to the 4-H craft exhibits as everyone else went off to pet bunnies or something.

As I walk through the mediocre quality handmade clothing and quilts, very little catches my eye. Two quilts show ingenuity and work. The rest just show work. The fine cotton crochet tablecloth with a huge “Best of Show” ribbon makes me pause longer than anything else. It must have been created using a tiny hook and a magnifying lens. It’s intricacies are every bit as beautiful as a new spider web.

I move on to the huckster hall–where the Vitamix guy promises health and vitality through pureed fruits and veggies, the Carnuba wax guy makes you think your car can look all shiny and new, and the sleep comfort guys are too eager to get everyone into bed. I pass by massage chairs, handwriting analysis computers, ring cleaners, political party booths, glass encased beetles (got one last year) and miracle cookware. There are people who will fix your back, your feet and your eyes.

I stop at the booth where the guy is selling Clean-n-Brite. I have to admit, I have some issues with hard water and soap scum in my shower. I’ve tried any number of products and have had no luck getting the glass perfectly clean. Given that I have limestone in the same shower, it’s tricky finding a product that will melt the lime on the glass shower and not the lime in the limestone lintel. I watch with hope as he spreads the bright pink paste across a shower door and lets it sit while he shows me the miracles of the product. He uses axle grease like finger paint on a mirror, makes marks with a crayon next to the grease, and draws lipstick on some tired looking velvet. He sprays a diluted pink spray onto the glass and the crayon and grease melt instantly. The shower door gets another wipe and, voila, the soap scum build up is gone. GONE!

Buying on hope.

At this point I’m wondering, “What the hell is in this stuff?” (Yeah, not editing, cause I wasn’t saying ‘heck’ in my brain…) It’s safe for septic tanks. It’s “environmentally friendly” and “non-toxic” but I still don’t really know what it is. I buy it anyway. Because I am hoping that I’ve finally found something that will work.

I get a special fair deal, of course. And, it’s a bit of product in a rather uncomfortable bag, so I decide to walk it out to the car and free up my hands for the rest of the fair. I’m sort of embarrassed to have considered, let alone purchased a product bearing the label “As Seen on TV,” but only sort of because it’s going to do what I want it to!

As I’m leaving the hall, I notice a new exercise machine. It has a base at the bottom that vibrates back and forth, and the idea is all you have to do is stand on it. The need to hold yourself on, apparently, works the core and helps you lose weight. I have images of the people in the 1950’s standing on a machine with a large strap wrapped around their bottoms and sort of giggle at the twenty-first century adaptation of no-sweat weight loss.

Of course, it’s sort of ironic, this laughter of mine. It turns out, there’s only one product for sale in that hall. It’s not a cleaning product, or a health product. But I’ve bought it nonetheless. I’ve just spent $30 on “hope.”

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