Archive for September, 2009

Pallet House

September 28, 2009

pallet house

This pallet house was featured on designboom earlier this year and I came across it recently in an unrelated search for work.  Its a pretty snappy concept I think.  They meant it as refugee housing in post-war or disaster situation but it could also be standard low income DIY housing in a lot of the world even without a nasty event.

The idea is that its made almost entirely of shipping pallets (readily available anywhere in the world today), simple and structural and requiring few other materials to get it set up as a quick shelter.  But then over time it can be added to – sided, roofed, covered with plaster, have windows and other details added – and turn into a semi-permanent residence.  Very cool idea by I-Beam Design + Architecture.

Click here to see what I-beam themselves have to say about it … and to see a lot more images and videos of the concept.


For a good time click …

September 26, 2009

this link.  xkcd describes itself as a web comic of romance sarcasm, math and language.  I just got introduced to it and think I’m in love.  But how do I quantify that love?  Well that just happens to be a question addressed in a recent strip:

xkcd 1

for more examples keep reading:  Read the rest of this entry »

Then Thursday, September the 22nd, actually dawned.

September 22, 2009

image of bag end via the amazing john howe

Some holidays make a bigger impression on me than others.  Some of them are pretty off the beaten path.  My mom is invited to an autumnal equinox ritual today but for me the significance is that today is the birthday of Frodo and Bilbo Baggins.  Its the day that Bilbo walked away from Bag End for the last time.  Its the day that Frodo sets out with Sam and Pippin for Rivendell and ultimately Mount Doom, on his own because he can’t afford to wait for Gandalf.  To me it signifies the beginning of journeys and the start of new things.  Summer is about relaxing, enjoying the sun, taking breaks, playing with friends.  But the beginning of fall, even when there isn’t a new semester beginning, necessarily involves sense of change, of buckling down and digging in and preparing for the future.  Chaucer said that people naturally felt like starting out on journeys in April when the weather changed and the days grew longer.  I feel somewhat differently – the onset of fall always feels like starting on a journey – even if I’m not going anywhere.  Its a pause to take stock and get serious after the relative frivolity of summer.

This feeling is perfectly encompassed by Tolkien himself, whom I believe must have felt the same thing to write such wonderful books, not to mention songs and poems on the subject.  I’ll include a verse from The Road Goes Ever On and On to illustrate this.  There are several versions of this song in the Hobbit and the trilogy but this is my favorite: Bilbo’s adaptation for the beginning of his journey to Rivendell at the beginning of Fellowship.  Its more substantial and contemplative than his original from the Hobbit and more hopeful and uplifting than his final version at the end of the story.

The Road goes ever on and on
Down from the door where it began.
Now far ahead the Road has gone,
And I must follow, if I can,
Pursuing it with eager feet,
Until it joins some larger way
Where many paths and errands meet.
And whither then? I cannot say.

In the fabulous BBC radio dramatization of the Lord of the Rings, this poem is given to Frodo, played as I have always imagined him thereafter by Ian Holm.  He speaks it slowly over a single descant violin and it is one of the most beautiful spoken work pieces I know.

*It was recently brought to my attention that the quotations which stick in my head like neon signs are not universally familiar … so I’ll note that the post title comes from Tolkien’s description of the anticipation of Bilbo Baggins’ eleventy-first birthday party at the beginning of the Fellowship of the Ring.

Cheese Eating Surrender Monkeys

September 20, 2009

I agree with this op ed piece in today’s New York Times so emphatically that I had to quote it in its entirety.  Right on Thomas Friedman.

Do we owe the French and other Europeans a second look when it comes to their willingness to exercise power in today’s world? Was it really fair for some to call the French and other Europeans “cheese-eating surrender monkeys?” Is it time to restore the French in “French fries” at the Congressional dining room, and stop calling them “Freedom Fries?” Why do I ask these profound questions?

Because we are once again having one of those big troop debates: Do we send more forces to Afghanistan, and are we ready to do what it takes to “win” there? This argument will be framed in many ways, but you can set your watch on these chest-thumpers: “toughness,” “grit,” “fortitude,” “willingness to do whatever it takes to realize big stakes” — all the qualities we tend to see in ourselves, with some justification, but not in Europeans.

But are we really that tough? If the metric is a willingness to send troops to Iraq and Afghanistan and consider the use of force against Iran, the answer is yes. And we should be eternally grateful to the Americans willing to go off and fight those fights. But in another way — when it comes to doing things that would actually weaken the people we are sending our boys and girls to fight — we are total wimps. We are, in fact, the wimps of the world. We are, in fact, so wimpy our politicians are afraid to even talk about how wimpy we are.

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Graham Foundation … thanks in advance!

September 17, 2009


Ernest R. Graham (1866–1936)was a prominent Chicago architect who was a protégé of Daniel Burnham.  The Graham Foundation for Advanced Studies in the Fine Arts makes project-based grants to individuals and organizations and produces public programs to foster the development and exchange of diverse and challenging ideas about architecture and its role in the arts, culture, and society.

I heard about the organization and their grants to architectural research last Friday when I dropped by Ozayr’s office for a little academic/psychological checkup and check in during my whirlwind one-day tour of the cities.  He’s been recommending that I apply for supplemental funding to augment my potential Fulbright grant (which will cover only living and international travel expenses, not academic or research costs).  Friday he listed a couple specific places, including Graham Foundation and we looked up the deadline … it was September 15th!

I had a bit of an ARGH! moment  because the week ahead was already totally booked up with a Whole Trees booth at the I-Renew energy fair, out of town house guests and a really nasty sore throat as well as the usual clutter.  However I couldn’t deny that it was a fabulous opportunity so on Monday after work I sat down and looked over the application and in the next thirty hours (it was due 11:59PM CST) I pulled together what I think is a quite decent application.  For anyone interested, here it is: Read the rest of this entry »

What Happened?

September 15, 2009

seasons change

What happened?  I was gone from work for four days and it seems that fall has come to Driftless Farm in the interim.  The walk to the outhouse is covered in fallen leaves.  The tomato plants have finally (I had given up checking) started ripening.  The sunflowers are dying.  I thought I was ready for summer to end but now I’m feeling just a bit sad.

Kroner’s Hardware Store

September 12, 2009

hardware store 2

I think I’ve fallen in love … with Kroner’s True Value Hardware Store in downtown La Crosse.  I had to run in last thursday to get a cooler (another story) and was overwhelmed with a sense of warmpth and happiness for how completely old fashioned and funky the place is.   They sell everything from a kitchen aid mixer to a range of dusty tricycles stored in a row in the cavernous upstairs annex as well as your standard range of hammers and nails.  They are also staffed apparently at all times by four or five (probably related) salt of the earth Midwestern guys.  Last Thursday they ranged in age from a 10 year old to the old-timer in the picture below … all just hanging out in the store and waiting to ask if they can help you find something.  It just goes to show you can be an everything store and yet not feel like a menacing alien space ship (like the Walmart superstore I entered under protest this weekend did).  Even though they’ve annexed the True Value into their name this place is totally individual.  Gaze at the pictures I surreptitiously snapped and love it.

hardware store 3

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A Bird in the Hand

September 10, 2009

bird in the hand 1

You never know what exciting thing is going to happen during your day.  In my case, that meant being startled nearly out of my skin by a huge flapping and fluttering which culminated with something small and yellow flying/falling down between my laptop and the window.  I leaned around the edge and determined that all the commotion had been caused by a tiny bird who was nearly as scared as I was – maybe more.  I carefully moved in with both hands and grabbed it (her) and carried her out the door muttering soothing nothings to myself and threw her out into the air.  Then I went and washed my hands about five times – because I’d been eating snack food with my fingers.  Oh and also, obviously, the first thing I did was reach for my camera because I am a compassionate human being, sensitive to the fear and stress of a fellow creature, second and a blogger first apparently!

Can anyone tell from this snap what kind of bird it was?

Stuff (nonsense)

September 9, 2009

This is the post I wrote for Digging in the Driftless this morning.  I liked thinking about this topic so much that I wanted to put here as well.

Stuff … we all have it.  I’m as guilty as the next person of accumulating questionably necessary possessions.  I was reminded of that only this morning when I ventured down to the basement of my apartment building to get my tent out of the storage area.  In a 20 by 20, one bedroom apartment I have three closets liberally stuffed with … stuff.  I don’t use it on a daily or even weekly basis.  My storage unit holds a few genuinely useful things – two boxes of winter clothing, some camping gear, assorted boxes from my last move and my bicycle.  But there is also a broken lamp, two printers I don’t use, a shelving unit I should give away, and a pile I’m unsure about.

It wasn’t so long ago that I lived 5 months in a tent just like it with everything I needed for comfort and convenience.  In 2007, I sublet my apartment in Minneapolis and packed my car packed with some work clothes, an air mattress and sleeping bag, my camera, laptop and a few drafting supplies and not much else.  I went to Biloxi Mississippi where I volunteered my labor and design skills to the Gulf Coast reconstruction effort.  Of all the lessons and skills I gained along the way the most important was how happy I was living with so little.

stuff 2

My tent home, complete with “stuff” in Biloxi, MS

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Go Left!

September 8, 2009


An amazing thing happened yesterday on the other side of the world.   At 5:55 AM local time, all the drivers on the road in Samoa stopped.  Listening to their radios broadcasting an address by Prime Minister, Toleafoa Faafisi, they took a breath and then switched to the left side of the road and drove on.  This is all according to plan.  The Samoan government has decided to up end a hundred years of driving policy and become a left-side-of-the-road country.  To aid the transition there has been a two day National holiday and alcohol sales are restricted for the week.  Signs have been changed, the roads re painted and police check points are reminding drivers to go slowly.

Read the rest of this entry »

Update: Fulbright Ap.

September 6, 2009

Here’s a for-the-record update on my thoughts about this Fulbright application.  I’ve been contacting professors and professionals and a couple family friends in NL over the last two weeks and have gotten a couple of promising responses.  I’m also scheduled to meet with my former Dutch prof this Friday to conduct my Language Evaluation.  I’m in a sweat to recall as much as I can of grammar and vocab, and wondering why I didn’t give myself a little more time.  However, the sense of progress is satisfying as well as scary!

Read the rest of this entry »

Commuter Reading

September 4, 2009

subway 2

This article in the New York Times today filled me with joy and also an intense longing for a time when I don’t commute by car anymore.  I like listening to the radio fine.  And I also sometimes make the road less safe and the trip more fun by talking on my cell phone.  But I miss walking to work with a book in my hand.  And I miss the experience I’ve never even had of a daily there-and-back on public transportation with a concentrated block of reading time.

I’ve always considered myself to be something of a country mouse but despite occasional borderline agoraphobia I have a paradoxical love of public transportation.  Especially subway trains.  I love the T in Boston, the Underground in London and the Subway in Paris.  Here’s a blog mentioned in the article that chronicles the subway-reading experiences of one New Yorker: the Subway Book Club. Read the rest of this entry »

Fun with matching fabric

September 3, 2009

purse 3

This is what I was working on in the evenings last week.  I really wanted to get it done before our planned family trip to Chicago although clearly my time as a country mouse has been affecting my design judgement.  My sister laughed out loud when she saw that I had created an open top bag to hold all my valuables – phone, wallet, camera, ipod, precious journal, etc while walking around the city.  I’ll have to take out the lining and put it back together with some sort of clasp when I get a chance.  Other than that little error though, the bag worked great!  Its comfy and holds all my necesities.  And it doesn’t have a big mess of pens floating around in the bottom threatening to make an inky mess because I also made a matching pencil case.

purse 2

I am so in love with the concept of a pencil case!  Where have they been all my life?  Both of these are made in some black canvas that I had lying around.  The yellow cotton lining and the orange and yellow pattern that is either a leaf or a pomegranate are from a delightful fabric store Malea took me to in Minneapolis the weekend before last.   I might decide to go nuts with the matching and make a tote bag and other assorted bags out of the same palate – as I really like it.  Plus which its fun to make them.