Archive for August, 2009


August 31, 2009

My favorite painting in the Chicago Art Institute (and therefore in the world) is this one:


“Meekness”  (1650) is one of a set depicting the eight Beatitudes.  I like the imagery and the almost realistic rendering of the woman.  …  But actually its appeal is largely sentimental.  I discovered it while wandering the Institute with my mother one very quiet winter Friday in high school and was amused by the title – its such an out of date virtue.  Did anyone ever actually believe that the meek shall inherit the earth?  We spent the rest of that trip classifying all the other paintings as “meek” or “not meek” and have made a point to visit it ever since.  I was in Chicago this weekend and after stopping at the desk to renew my membership and hitting the museum cafe in the basement courtyard to caffeinate Mom, our first act was to make a bee-line for Meekness.

(The lamb apparently stands for purity of the soul – but I mostly like it because my mother is obsessed with sheep.)


Needled … (speaking of good names for blogs)

August 29, 2009


I discovered needled recently while trolling the internet for images of slightly alternative Etsy-style sweatshirts I might try to copy or build off of (that’s another story, accompanied by a confession impractical and mildly excessive purchasing of fabric in a fun new fabric store Malea introduced me to last weekend).  In any case.  I found the site through and image of the “owl sweater” pattern she has posted – which I now believe I will be making this winter.  But what kept me scrolling through was the great prose.  A recent post concerned a knitting pattern, an encomium in praise of turnips and some notes on home-brewing beer.  The turnip material included an offhand quotation of a passage by Mark Twain.  I couldn’t ask for better.  Anyway I’ve caught up on all the recent posts and am treating myself to viewing the archives as a break from work.  Be sure to check out the parliament link, which shows reader-submitted photos of other people’s owl sweater knitting efforts.   Enjoy!

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Running out of Green Thread

August 27, 2009

malea's apron 2

Dave Barry used to pepper his columns with phrases that would make a good name for a band.  I think Irascible Babies was one example.  Lately my mind has started to do the same thing.  I’m starting to hear phrases that sound like potential blog names.  I think Running out of Green Thread would be a good one for a crafty oriented blog.  Maybe I’ll make it someday, if someone else hasn’t gotten there first.  Another might be Throwing Scissors.  That’s something the kid of one of my dad’s co-workers was recently reprimanded for doing in kindergarten.  I laughed out loud when I heard about it; its such a fabulous extension of the classic criticism “runs with scissors.”  And there are certainly times when I feel like it.  Throwing Scissors would be a good name for a blog written by a collective of burnt out arts and crafts teachers.

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Nederlandse Dromen (dutch dreaming)

August 25, 2009

dutch dreaming

I think I’m really beginning to see this Fulbright application as a real possibility.  Last night I was checking out the Nederlandse Taalunie website – a summer language program for non-native speakers that I participated in three years ago.  I was wondering about the possibility of going again.  If I do get this fellowship I’m going to have to work hard to bring my Dutch back up to conversational levels.  Working on your own with old notes will get you only so far.  I would try to go early next summer and participate in the Ghent program for three weeks in August so as to be as preped as possible to work in the language.  This morning I was fretting about the fact that the program is based in Belgium.  I wasn’t even sure where in Belgium Ghent was located.  So I checked it out on google maps.  The driving directions list it as a 2 hour 45 minute drive from Amsterdam.  Thats about the distance between La Crosse and Madison.  So … no worries.  Then I wondered about the public transport (not that I doubted its existence for a minute – I just wanted to know what it cost).  So I called up the good old Nederlandse Spoorwegen website and was overwhelmed by a wave of nostalgia and excitement.  THIS MIGHT REALLY HAPPEN!

(and isn’t it a pretty website?)

Old Stomping Ground

August 23, 2009

rapson visit

I was back up in the Twin Cities this weekend for a last visit to Malea before she moves (sniffle), a chance to she Shawna before she pops and a meeting with Ozayr.  I had a fabulous time and the weather couldn’t have been more beautiful.  I couldn’t resist taking a couple of snaps of my old stomping ground at Rapson Hall on my way to see O, who gave me scads of good advice and left me feeling quite energized.  He also left me with a borrowed book.  I really wouldn’t believe that I HAD been to his office if I didn’t walk away with a 700 page book on the theory of something.

Here’s a little touch of maroon and gold color on campus.  This kind I can appreciate; when I see it on a T-shirt I fire up with Badger pride.

rapson visit 1

August 20, 2009

free the hikers

Tomorrow it will have been three weeks since Shane Bauer, Sarah Shourd, and Joshua Fattal were taken into custody by the Iranian border patrol.  The Iranian government has confirmed that they are being held but has not charged them with anything or allowed them any consular access or contact with their families.    Their loved ones have launched a website,, as the online focus for news and posts about Shane, Josh and Sarah, the diplomatic efforts to win their release and the activities friends and supporters.  Please visit this website and also consider joining the Facebook group or using Twitter with the tag #ssj to spread the word.

Higher Gas Costs for More Sustainability

August 18, 2009

I think if I keep posting in this vein I’m going to start getting hate mail but I just find it such an interesting twist on all the complaints about rising gas prices.  Just a week after writing up $20 Per Gallon I am posting this profile of British green designer, Lucy Pedler, who was interviewed this week for the Building Sustainable Design website.  In addition to discussing her career as an architect who has charted her own path professionally and become an organizer for sustainable design she editorializes a bit about the recent recession.  She actually wishes that the hike in fuel prices had gone on longer:

“I know that’s an odd thing to admit but I had hoped the recession would be more catastrophic – that it would change the way people think about their lives, because we can’t keep consuming the way we do. Frankly, we’re running out of stuff.”

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Bank Robbers and Blueprints

August 14, 2009

If you aren’t already familiar with the Whitest Kids You Know … you should be.  This particular sketch contains a delightful explication of the way architectural plans work so its doubly hysterical.  Watch and laugh.

Thinking Out Loud – Metaphorically

August 14, 2009

I’ve had the idea in the back of my mind for a couple of years now that I would like to win a Fulbright to study sustainable architecture in the Netherlands.  I’ve been kicking it around and mentioning it casually for a long time  now …and I think the time is right.  The application deadline is in October, which means being a great deal more concrete about the whole thing than I am right now … and very quickly too.  So I’ve been spending my coffee shop internet time the last month or so surfing, reading accounts of other students in the Fulbright process, papers on sustainable design, little articles on current events in Dutch and trying to sort it all out in my head.   I’m going to start using this blog for its original purpose again – a place to siphon off some of the ideas that are rattling around,  making it hard to think.  Last night I sat down and typed up the long rambling version below the fold and this morning I distilled it into the following three two graphs.

Here’s what I’m thinking right now:

I am fundamentally interested in why the Dutch are so much further advanced in their process of creating sustainable, livable buildings.  [For the moment we’ll take it as read that they are and I’ll back it up later.]  There are any number of reasons ranging from geography and the financial system to the socio-cultural but one of the most obvious and concrete is that in the Netherlands they legislate for sustainability and in America we have a legal building code which often prevents environmental innovation.

So my interest, really, lies in the way the Dutch have used legislation to aid their progress in forwarding sustainable design.  Here’s why I think this is a good Fulbright proposal subject: It’s concrete; it requires academic research that needs to be done on site; I can tie it into culture as much as I choose to; and best of all it is applicable to the united states within a  fairly quick timescale. Due to the way our building codes are administered on a local basis so I could go into this with the goal of teasing out concrete concepts that can be applied to one (or many) local building codes to improve municipal sustainability.

If anyone has any thoughts on this I’d love to get some input.  If you want to get the long rambly version of what I’ve been thinking about all this, read below the fold. Read the rest of this entry »

Rising gas costs are … a good thing?

August 12, 2009

book $20

The book of the moment is $20 Per Gallon by Christopher Steiner.  This is a fascinating read that anyone interested in the future of America should read.  Its clear and engaging and reads like an article in the NYTimes magazine.  It will make you think about how you want to plan your life around the inevitable changes that are on the horizon.  Why read it?  Well, as Steiner puts it:

“The price of oil – and thus, gasoline – affects our lives to a degree few realize.  Its not just the BP or Shell portion of your Visa bill.  It’s the bricks in your walls, the plastic in your refrigerator, the asphalt on your roads­, the shingles on your roof, the synthetic rubber in your ball.  With every penny that gasoline moves up, so, too, does the price of most things we consume.”

Smile: gas prices are going to go up … and it will be good for all of us.

This will change our world in dramatic ways.  Most people acknowledge this and then shudder.  Every person I’ve told about this book since I picked it up has responded with a reflexive flinch – what a depressing read they imply.  But actually the tone is in the subtitle: How the inevitable rise in the price of gasoline will change our lives for the better.  Steiners view is that this inexorable price hike will do us good.  First, a moment for the underlying premise:  will gas prices continue to rise?  Read the rest of this entry »

I Need a Design Opinion

August 11, 2009

jacket 1

I got the fabric and pattern for this jacket in Seattle with my aunt about four years ago (or it might have been eight).  We cut out all the pieces and then ran out of time so I folded the pieces up inside the bolt, stored them somewhere separate from the pattern and lost them both.  Earlier this summer the fabric surfaced again and after a little bit of detective work I was able to attach all the pieces to each other and turned them into this! Its wildly outsized (what was I thinking?) so I have some options for how to fit it.  I could just take in all the seams and make it up the way I (vaguely) remember or I could add cross the two front pannels and make a sort of modified double breasted number.  I really can’t decide which way I like it better though.  Does anyone else have an opinion?  See the two options below the fold:

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Living Root Bridges

August 10, 2009


I came across these images on another blog and had to pass them on.  I can’t decide if it reminds me more of Ents or of Sleepy Hollow but the idea is stunning nonetheless.  What a beautiful concept.  The only information about them seems to come from an Indian (as in India) resort nearby where they are made/grown and its aim is clearly to promote its own tourism however, that doesn’t necessarily make it suspect.  Here’s what they say about the process.

“The lower reaches of the southern slopes of Khasi and Jaintia hills are humid and warm and are streaked by many swift flowing rivers and mountain streams. A species of Indian Rubber tree – botanical name: Ficus elastica – thrives and flourishes alongside these streams and rivers. This tree can comfortably perch itself on huge boulders along side the riverbanks or in the middle of rivers and send its roots down to the riverbed. Thus, they have adapted themselves very well to high soil erosion caused by these fast flowing rivers and streams that come down about 3000 feet along precipitous slopes. These trees shoot out many secondary roots from their trunks.

“The early war-Khasis, had noticed these qualities of this tree and had adapted it to serve their need for bridges to cross rivers and streams. In order to direct the roots in the desired direction, betel nut tree trunks, sliced half in the middle for their entire length, are hollowed out and are positioned according to the requirement of the bridge. The thin and long tender roots are then passed through these hollowed out betel nut tree trunks. The roots start growing towards the directed end. When they reach the other end of the stream or river, they are allowed to take root in the soil. These bridges usually have base spans numbering more than two. There are also two protective railing spans. Stones are used to fill any gaps in the base spans and over time they get embedded in the floor of the root bridge. Some of these bridges have roots brought down from the tree branches joining the middle of the bridge as support spans. Some of these root bridges are made by entwining the roots of two trees planted on opposite banks or in the middle of the river on huge boulders.”

Here’s the blog where I found it (interesting for other reasons too) and another couple of blogs of unknown provenance here and here.  Here’s a link to the resort website.

root bridge 2

In Praise of Adventuresome Cooking

August 7, 2009

julie julia 2

Last week the New York Times Magazine published a long and delightful piece by Michael Pollan about American cooking.  Inspired in part by the new movie Julie/Julia, Pollan examines the question of why we seem to have neatly traded a culture of cooking for a culture of sitting in our living rooms watching other people cook on TV.

As for the film, I’m not in the business of writing movie reviews.  So I’ll just say that this one was great.  If you like cooking at all, or have every enjoyed watching Meryl Streep or Amy Adams in anything, you’ll enjoy this one.  Its gotten mixed reviews but the bad ones are mostly critical because it focuses too much time on the food and doesn’t have enough drama in the plot.  Nobody dies.  Nothing blows up.  Nobody cheats on their spouse.  But … that’s not what the movie is supposed to be about.  Didn’t they watch the preview?  In actual fact the movie was delightful, fabulous and buoyant.  I was hugging myself with delight and silently clapping my hands for joy every few scenes.  Streep and Adams were both fantastic.  Go see it immediately! Read the rest of this entry »

Situating Sustainably

August 5, 2009

book pattern

Thinking about ways to site buildings for Digging in the Driftless this week I pulled my copy of A Pattern Language off the shelf and gave it another thumb through. These patterns struck me as being particularly applicable to what I mentioned casually in my point about slope – don’t build on the flat land.  I thought I’d expand on the idea here on Lost, where I have no mandate for concision.

[I should note that I am by no means a Christopher Alexander purist.  There have been a lot of new developments and ideas in architecture and even natural building since he first published his seminal work in 1977.  I also resent the fact that it still retails for $65 which makes the book (which can also serve as a doorstop) pretty hard for the average person to justify.  Alexander can be sanctimonious and bossy.  And the pictures are in black and white (a horrible crime for an architecture book).  That said, there are a lot of really good ideas in it and my copy is well marked with dog-ears and post-its in various colors.  If you’re thinking of building a green something, or just thinking about design at all, visit your local library and check this one out.]

Pattern 4: Agricultural Valleys

“The land which is best for agruiculture happens to be best for building too.  But it is limited – and once destroyed, it cannot be regained for centuries.”

He goes on to talk about how suburban growth has been “spreading over all land, agricultural or not.”  Too well I know it.  I grew up in suburban Chicago in a town called Libertyville.  It had once been an actual town, a way station on the road between Chicago and Milwaukee and it had a few historic buildings and a bit of civic infrastructure left.  But it and the surrounding communities were also growing like cancer out into the surrounding farmland.  At that time (its been 5 years since I was there) Lake County was the northern most edge of Chicago’s continuous development and still contained a fair amount of farm land and open country.  I could drive 15 minutes northwest from my parent’s home and come be out in the among the fields at an almost untrafficed county forest preserve.  But the development was steadily creeping along that route at the rate of a few new strip mall parkinglots per year.

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Check out: 8 Tips for Siting your Natural Home

August 5, 2009

digging 8 tips for siting

As promised I’ve contribued another guest post to Digging in the Driftless.  Here are 8 things to consider when siting a green home.  There are actually endless considerations when deciding where to place a new building and, as with all design, you never really finish – you just run out of time and have to stop.  Never the less, the more time and brain power you put into a design project, the more you get out of it.  I’d be eager to hear anyone elses suggestions for what is key to siting a building, particularly to heighten sustainable design.  Feel free to comment here or there with suggestions.

Breaking News

August 3, 2009


I got an email  this morning with a link to an article saying that my friend Josh Fattal  is being detained in Iran right now.  The details are all pretty sketchy right now and no one is quite clear what’s going on and why but this much is apparent … Josh and two others are stuck in Iran and there are international diplomatic proceedings underway.  Read the rest of this entry »

“I’ve Looked at Clouds that Way”

August 3, 2009

clouds 3

… quoth Joni Mitchel.  But to be honest I’m not often inspired to stare up at the clouds, let alone take pictures of them.  I usually don’t think much about the sky one way or another.  An inveterate sun-shunner such as myself is usually scanning for the nearest tree cover or else obsessing about the SPF rating on their sunscreen rather than observing the heavens.  But lately I’ve been finding my eyes turned upwards more often than usual to marvel at the astonishingly beautiful clouds up there.  Its been a week and a half of truly stunning days.  I don’t know the meteorological terminology but they are individual clouds, separated by splashes of blue and each one has its own MO, one will menace you with a dark underbelly and scatter big rain drops while the next one over is cheerily white and puffy.  Read the rest of this entry »

After Rain

August 3, 2009

See how our big world turns tiny and upside down
in raindrops on thorns of gorse: along the lane
to the small harbour the hedges are empty of leaves
and everything has a flayed, scrubbed look, antique
and about to be new, the brusque wind and flailing branches,
declaring change, a change in the weather
that must unsettle us, too, who persist inside its loops
and mazes, unable to see straight, unable to forecast
tomorrow or the day after, only able to remember
what happened: the air scenting to freshness,a sense
of calm coming down, of getting to the other side
of turbulence, of things being touched for once
to wholeness; that somehow nothing bad could happen.

Eamon Grennan

Breakfast of Champions

August 1, 2009

pancakes 4

Or at least … the breakfast of me, every day for the past week.  Its delicious.  Its easy.  Its totally amazing.

Here’s how it happened.  I’ve got to say, when my little sister told me that she’d started cooking herself pancakes for breakfast every morning, I shook my head.  She’s really gotten into the kitchen lately, making herself everything from veggie fried rice to veggie burgers (from scratch) on english muffin buns (also from scratch).  I attributed this new breakfast trend to a similarly crazy feat of derring do and also to the fact that she doesn’t have to be at work until 10 in the morning this summer and her commute is a 10 minute walk.  However, last Sunday I forgot to get milk from the grocery store and so on Monday morning I was confronted with a cupboard rather bare of breakfast options.  I did have, however, a nearly full container of buttermilk (purchased by KJ while she was here for the weekend – she uses it in fabulous scones).  It is my habit to let the containers of buttermilk she buys when she visits languish in the fridge until the next time she comes … and then throw them out because they’ve gone bad. On this occasion, as it was the only breakfast component in my fridge, I decide to throw caution to the winds and try it out in her much touted recipe.


And it was fantastic.  It went together with ease and and cooked up into three cute as a button little cakes almost before I was ready for them.  I was nervous about flipping them at first but  I’m getting better at that part.  (In my household growing up, pancake flipping was the province of fathers and I’ve never actually made them for myself before.)  Here’s how I did it:

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