Saturday, January 31, 2009

Incoming: Vegan recipes

The vegan recipes I got from two partners couldn't be more different. Unless one had meat in the recipes, or unless one wasn't actually recipes, but a giraffe. Neither of them are giraffes, so they have that in common. Pictured above is a mini-cookbook written, designed and sent by the manager of a food coop in Urbana, Illinois. The recipes look easy, nutritious and cheap: Garlicky Asian kale & tofu, tempeh avocado sandwiches (with directions for marinading the tempeh), tamale pie, and chana masala. Yum! The recipes even smell delicious, having been packed with a bag of garam masala. It also came with one of my very favorite snacks in my favorite flavor, mesquite lime vegan jerky*, and a long, thoughtful card.

Another partner sent me two recipes that looked like they'd been well-used already, or maybe the envelope got wet in the mail. I'm all for reuse, it's just a strong contrast. The recipes are for a weird-sounding milkshake with ingredients I wouldn't normally have around the house, and tofu tacos. At first I thought "well that's useless," but then it dawned on me that as obvious as it seems, I've never thought about putting taco seasonings in crumbled tofu. And I freaking love tacos. Also? I love milkshakes. So I'm grateful for having gotten both of these envelopes!

* not pictured, because I ate it immediately.

Friday, January 23, 2009

January 21: "F" Animal ATCs, hither and thither

There were three partners for this swap, so I made three ATCs and I got three ATCs of animals whose names start with the letter "F." Here's a long list of those. What are the chances that I'd get two flamingoes who look like they called each other that morning to see what each other was wearing?

The ones I sent are speed-collages. I just had to make a flamingo card. With a falcon, naturally.

This one I call "foxes shoe shopping," because of a little drama I imagined while I was taking its picture:

This frog laid eggs in a tv. All the fish are coming to check it out.

Incoming: Another postcard

The returns are still trickling in from the 10-postcard swap I mailed on January 2. Here's the latest, with some good advice.

Incoming: Writing-prompt notebook

This is the one thing that jumped out at me from the writing prompt notebook my swap partner sent (the rest are about fun or children - what is it about fun and children? I'm not sure I want to fill a notebook with the answer):

Yup. Projects and Hedonism, what it's all about.

January 20: Friendship star quilt block

I had no color constraints for this quilt square except to make the background dark and the star light; my partner says she likes making scrappy quilts so just send whatever I like. I chose fall colors again. It's been a long time since I made a quilt, but I think I was more exact with this one square than I've been for any quilt I've finished. Here's the one I got in return.

Thursday, January 22, 2009

January 19: Destash Swap

For this swap I had to send at least ten craft items to my partner. I sent a skein of cotton embroidery yarn, a square of felt, a score of buttons, a purse frame, a wheat-colored sharpie, a roll of quarter-inch navy ribbon, a roll of quarter-inch silver tape, a measuring tape (why did I have so many?), a half-yard of floral cotton fabric, an eight-inch purple zipper, eight gold filigree beads, forty-some round gold beads, and some origami paper (not pictured). I still have lots of craft supplies I've had forever without using, and I'll be getting at least ten things back, so this isn't much of a destashing.

Incoming: Fabric postcard

This is a miniature quilt, made in Finland! Its maker says about herself, "I have been a quilter for 20 years and a crazy one since 2005. I love stitching by hand and use almost all my leisure time to do it." With so many different elements of handwork, it must have been fun and time-consuming to make. It's a work of art to live up to. Here are the back (it got sent in an envelope, though these can go through the mail) and a detail shot:

January 18: Historical Fiction, hither & thither

I was really, really excited about this swap, first because I got to share a great book with somebody, and second because I could use a new fiction book (Big Box Swindle is still my daily non-fiction). Right now, my third reading of James Harriot's "The Lord God Made Them All" is sufficing; it reads like fiction. At this point in the author's life, he's returned from WWII and resumes his calling as a vet in rural Yorkshire. One chapter describes the odd help he got to put a cow's rear leg back in its socket, apparently a four-person job at least. There were no near neighbors to the farm, but the government had assigned prisoners of war to stay on farms until they could be returned to their countries of origin. In all cases, Mr Herriot relates, the prisoners were grateful for the hospitality (they ate fresh farm meals while other parts of the country were still on rations) and eager to help out around the place. To the day of his writing, their hosts still visit the prisoners in Germany and Italy on holiday. This does read like fiction: What if the government decided to quarter the people still at Guantanamo on farms?

All my books are in storage in the attic, but I had a good time visiting them in their boxes to find my beloved copy of Pearl Buck's The Good Earth about a farmer growing up and old on the meniscus of revolutionary China. I was actually looking for Marge Piercy's Gone to Soldiers about ten intertwined characters during WWII, or Kamala Markandaya's Nectar in a Sieve about an Indian woman struggling to maintain family traditions in rapidly colonizing India. But I must have given those away already; they are three of my favorite books after all.

So I was sorely disappointed to open up this avon romance of all things, which was stuffed with "bookmarks" that were actually ads for more romances. Avon categorizes it as "historical romance," but it doesn't care enough to mention on the cover when and where it takes place, and even so, I doubt it pays any more attention to history than you would if your loins were quivering all the time. Oh well, I can pick my own books. Anyway, the message board for the historical fiction swap is full of references to (and only to) novels about middle-English royalty I wouldn't have liked either. Yes, I'm an intense fan Arthurian legend, but that doesn't count as history.

January 17: One pair of socks

This is the pattern from the ankle socks I sent. I got them from The Black Cat, which is probably closing and everyone is sad. Do you know anyone who wants to buy it?

Sunday, January 18, 2009

January 16: Handmade buttons

I am SO happy with these buttons hewn from peach pits, which since 2005 have been sitting patiently in a little box waiting for me to figure out what to do with a peach pit. Let me tell you, now I know why they're called peach stones in places where language reflects reality better. They are hard, and I bent over them for unnoticed hours with sawdust building up on my cuffs and thighs. But in the end I had twelve little coins that slid and clicked together in my palm in a most satisfying way.

I've heard from two different people that I should sell these. But the point of this month-long exercise is to make stuff that's not for sale. Even so, while I was making them, I thought to myself a few times, "really? really? You're just going to send these fruit stones of your labor off to some stranger who might not appreciate how much you put into them, instead scorning their lack of uniform symmetry? Are you sure?" And each time, I decided again that the process is the point, not the product. I'm challenging myself to make new things, to make things with no profit at the end, to make things with confidence that the universe will get them where they need to go. I was sorry to turn them over to the post office, it's true, but non-attachment is a good lesson.

I attached them in sets to a card cut from an atlas cover:

I like this photo particularly. They look like cookies, but they'd break your teeth:

January 15: Handmade postcards

This swap directed me to make five postcards and send one to each of five partners. I tried not to be too much of a perfectionist, so that each collage didn't take more time than I actually have and so they could retain some spontaneity. I only read my partners' profiles when I finished, and discovered that I'd made a perfect card for at least three of them. These coincidences cease to surprise me, although I still give them their due reverence. It's just the way things work.

This one went to a woman who loves nature, the ocean, vintage things and zombies (the entertainer just has to be a zombie if he's dancing with a colossal squid):

This is my favorite of the bunch. The list of things starting with "F" is from a Life Magazine ad for an illustrated encyclopedia I have a few volumes of, including the "F" volume. I love this group of words. Fairy Tales, Frogs, Flowers, Farms, Fossils, Feudalism, Foreign Aid, and (the hidden one) Flouridation, while surely meant in this list to elucidate how far-ranging the encyclopedia is, have something in common fifty years later: They are the fantasies, public relations coups, and social and environmental disasters that our society is built upon.

This postcard is made entirely of stuff that might otherwise have gone out with the trash. Honestly, when I started making it, I didn't even know it was for this swap; I just had strips of maps and calendar pages (leftover from cutting origami squares) and a piece of card I'd been using to transport them without creasing. The escalator image and the luna moth print on a piece of plastic bag came later. I mailed it to a Californian "artist/engineer/mom/gardener/recycler," whose "artwork is 99% Garbage ... I use dumpster treasures to make my collages."

This I mailed to a woman in Florida who loves vintage/retro photos, "off beat and dark humor," and who still wants a cigarette though she quit ages ago:

I think maybe next year I'll do a collage a day.

Incoming: Independent Label mix

I include this background to the incoming indie-rock mix CD swap not only to make the photo interesting, but because my swap partner mailed me a whole yard of this fabric, which is just begging to become my favorite spring skirt. The mix looks good too, although I haven't been able to play it yet without my computer crashing. I need to fix the CD drive. Here's the playlist, chock full of capital letters:

1. State of the Union - David Ford
2. Breathe Me - Sia
3. Coconut Skins - Damien Rice
4. In Circles - Sunny Day Real Estate
5. The Walk - Imogen Heap
6. They - Jem
7. Sorry About That - Alkaline Trio
8. Dear Josie, Love Robyn - Sarge
9. Zebra - John Butler Trio
10. Umbrella - Marié Digby
11. I Know You Love Me - Smoking Popes
12. Jolene - Mindy Smith
13. I'm a Loner Dottie, a Rebel - The Get Up Kids
14. Friend X - Pohgoh
15. Frozen - Tegan and Sara
16. Imitosis - Andrew Bird
17. Around the Bend - The Asteroids Galaxy Tour
18. Nothing Is Real - Fisher
19. Toxic (live) - Local H

January 14: Handmade needlebook

While making this needlebook, I realized how quickly I've grown to be dependent on the one I received. It's stored in its envelope still, awaiting exposition at the fun-a-day finale, where I will showcase every swap I've received this month, but I keep pulling it out of the pile to use it. My mini-adventure trying to find non-acrylic felt, and coming up with only brown and navy 80% wool felt, makes me appreciate the incredible quality of materials Rochelle used to make mine. I would even venture to guess the pages are cashmere, they feel so good to the touch!

My partner likes birds and autumn colors, and luckily I had just such fabrics in my stash. I lined the cover with thick paper to keep the needles from poking through, added two pockets on the inside covers, and some snaps for closure. The nest (from a print I made for these) doesn't have much to do with needles, but I asked my partner to imagine it was built with all her thread ends.

The remaining felt may find other incarnation as a small stuffed groundhog; I haven't decided yet.

January 13: Handmade pincushions

The handmade pincushion swap started a series of swap projects I'm pretty pleased with. First I made the red & aqua one, great for portable handwork, with an old bottlecap as a base (superb tutorial here). Since it's so small, I wanted to special-fy it by filling it with emery sand instead of synthetic stuffing. So with Sara along, I set out to fabric row, one of my favorite institutions in Philly. Whole blocks of independently owned specialty and general textile stores, most of which have been there for decades, refer patrons to each other when they don't have what you ask for. Maxie's Daughter made us feel like insiders when they escorted us to their basement in search of wool felt (they had brown and navy blue, and have had the bolts for 15 years at least - the only place I asked which had any non-acrylic felt). Fabric Row is a lovely example of how independent businesses build community and encourage civic interaction. And there is so much more variety than at a chain; I just wanted to touch everything!

Still - no emery sand. I resorted to purchasing a strawberry needle sharpener and using the emery from that. The offering looked meager to me, so I whipped up the funny-looking green one, which you wear like a ring on your thumb (ingenious tutorial here).

I packed them up with an extra piece of fabric I thought my partner would like and sent it off to the Netherlands, with a longing to mail myself there as well.

Friday, January 16, 2009

Incoming: Firsts of the New Year

This postcard came from Mary, who made a list of her new year's firsts a lot longer than the one I sent. She signs off saying, "2009 is going okay for me so far and I hope yours is even better." I have to say it is going a lot better than okay. I found myself making a list last night of all the things I have going for me: Without hardly trying, I'm cooking more and eating well, going to yoga regularly, and drinking only rarely. I'm not doing too much or too little of anything. I'm spending lots of time in my kitchenette studio and I've made some things I'm proud of. I have old friends I love and new friends I really like. My project revising the Switzerland guidebooks for Untours is a lot of fun and I'm doing a good job. All my jeans fit great. So I haven't had time to clean my room and I don't have any long-term employment plans in a tanking economy - I feel happier, more grounded, and more capable of dealing with the problems that do rear their heads, than I ever have while being cognizant of it. And in January, too! If this attitude sticks around until Spring I might overload.

January 12: Vegan recipes

I've been known to eat meat when I know it comes from a local farm where the animal was given free rein to act on all its natural instincts, but because of the environmental, economic and karmic consequences of factory farms, I've been leaning towards a vegan diet lately. It's not something I've had to put effort into, it's just what my body is asking for. Until about a month ago, I couldn't eat enough cheese. Now I'm even using Earth Balance buttery spread instead of butter. Still, despite the quotes I wrote on the recipe cards for this swap, I'm not militant about it. (Not like I am about fur, which to my surprise causes me to yell at people on the street and in elevators. My advice to anti-fur citizens: stay away from the Kimmel Center during an event unless you're packing rotten tomatoes.)

I sent recipes for making seitan, chocolate cupcakes with orange frosting, and my favorite, African ground nut stew, from the Vegetarian Meat and Potatoes cookbook, which has lots of super meals. Here's the stew:

1 T olive oil
1 medium yellow onion, diced
2 garlic cloves, minced
1 or 2 chiles, seeded and chopped
1.5 t peeled & grated fresh ginger
.5 t brown sugar
.75 t cinnamon
.25 t cumin
1.5 pounds winter squash, seeded, peeled and cut into bite-size chunks
1.5 c water
.25 c creamy natural peanut butter
salt & pepper
1.5 c cooked black-eyed peas (or 1 15-oz can, drained & rinsed)
.5 c chopped roasted peanuts

1. Heat the oil in a large saucepan over medium heat. Add the onion, cover, and cook, stirring a few times, untiil softened, about 5 minutes. Stir in the garlic, chiles, ginger, brown sugar, cinnamon, and cumin and cook for 1 minute. Add the squash and stir to coat with the spices. Add 1.25 cups of the water and salt and pepper to taste. Bring to a boil, then reduce heat to low.

2. Put the peanut butter in a small bowl and slowly add the remaining .25 cup water, stirring until smooth.

3. Stir the peanut butter mixture into the stew, cover, and simmer until the vegetables are tender, about 30 minutes. About 10 minutes before the end of the cooking time, add the black-eyed peas and peanuts and simmer until heated through. Before serving, taste to adjust the seasonings.

Serves 6.

January 11: Independent Label CD

The actual title of this swap was "indie rock CD" but for reasons not examined here I feel a little squeamish using the word "indie." Jamie, the person I was assigned to make it for, said in her profile she likes "hard rock music and emo bands," so I tried to give her a mix that would satisfy both of those while still being music I really like and want to share with people. It ended up having lots of Dischord bands on it, but there are others too. Including people who are my friends, so I'm a bit of a nepotist, but I might not like them so much if I didn't like their music!

I spent almost as much time on the CD folder; just in case Jamie hated the music I wanted her to have something cool at least! I used an index page from an atlas, so the part of the index title that ended up on the front of the folder became the title of the mix: Locations of DIVISIONS: pop. pop. pop. ("pop." was the column heading, for "population" of course.) Inside there was one sleeve for the CD and one for the playlist. I got a response from Jamie already: "It's going to take a couple listenings to really decide on the music. The packaging, though, is awesome. It made me want to pop the cd in and give it a listen, right away, that's how packaging for a mix should be." So my ploy worked.

Here's the playlist:
Ganger - Cats, Dogs And Babies Jaws
Q And Not U - So Many Animal Calls
Kaiser Chiefs - Everyday I Love You Less And Less
Sun City Girls - Blue Mambo
MAKE-UP - (I've Heard About) Saturday Nite
Mission Of Burma - Red
Propagandhi - Natural Disasters
Stinking Lizaveta - Stupid MF
Ex Orkest - Kokend Asfalt
Via Audio - Enunciation
Someone Still Loves You, Boris Yeltsin - Anne Elephant
Mr. Blanding's Dreamhouse - Khaki Baby
Maria Taylor - My Own Fault
Joshua Marcus - So Low So Love So Long
Mischief Brew - Roll Me Through The Gates Of Hell
Slim Cessna's Auto Club - Pine Box
Built To Spill - You Were Right
Karl Larsson - Devil's Strings
Calexico - Deep Down
The (International) Noise Conspiracy - Breakout 2001

Tuesday, January 13, 2009

January 10: Six word memoirs

The idea behind this one was to write six-word memoirs relating to family and friends and mail them to three partners. I've received them from two of my partners, and the first to come in was so poignant, it inspired me to meditate on mine for awhile (I'll post it when I have all three). The majority of the ones that came out of me turned out to be about two people who aren't my friends anymore, which doesn't make them less important to me. I sent them in cards I potato-printed in 1999 to be invitations to a party that never happened. Click on the image to read them.

Incoming: Photos

Like me, the person who was supposed to send me one photo in a photos swap couldn't decide, so she sent two: birch bark, and a gargoyle under construction. The more I look at the gargoyle, the more creeped out I get.

Incoming: Ocean Life ATCs

I've gotten the ocean life-themed artist trading cards from both of my partners; very different from each other and from what I sent. I don't have the patience to draw, and would never draw an ATC, so the ones at left, drawn by a woman who met her husband and a friend who made her wedding dress in the same internet chat room, will be unique in my collection.

These ones are from a retired schoolteacher who lives with her parents, taking care of her mother who has Alzheimer's. This is one happy ocean:

Monday, January 12, 2009

January 9: No-spend swap

If you don't count what I spent when I bought stuff before the idea of swapping something for every day in January came to me, I haven't spent anything on any of my swaps yet. Oh wait - there was the origami paper. And postage! But that's all. Still, I liked this idea of this swap, which was to read your partner's profile then walk around the house finding stuff they might like. My partner likes mini things and making stuff, so I sent her some mini-bunny earrings and a heart patch, both of which are available in my etsy shop. I also included some tea bags and some things from my craft supply stash that she might find more useful than I have so far: a few four-inch squares of fabric, another print of the heart but on a plastic bag, a piece of ribbon, a plastic whale from the dollar store, two skeins of yarn with sequins on it, and probably a few other tidbits. There was a minimum monetary value for the swap (as if you were spending - the point was just not to send throwaways) which I far exceeded, but if I'm not using it, it has no value anyway.

January 8: Origami papers

Here are the origami papers I sent in exchange for receiving these. I hand-cut half of them from maps and calendars, but just in case the recipients want actual Japanese designs, I threw in some storebought papers too.

Incoming: More postcards

I've gotten three more postcards from the postcard swap; the one just below of which is the most interesting textually so far. Ithas a picture of Tolkien's map of Gondor on the front. Apparently the sender lives there with Èomir, whom she makes bathe twice a day. Why, I wonder? Is it the horsey smell? She asks about a haunted restaurant in Philadelphia, which I can only guess is the Cresheim Cottage Cafe, where a 10-year-old Victorian girl haunts the second floor. I've eaten there twice, once with far, far too much brie, and never noticed. I'll invite the sender down from Canada and take her there.

Funnily enough, the person who sent this card also mentions Lord of the Rings, since she lives on the South Island of New Zealand where it was filmed. I wonder how many hours of my life I've spent watching that movie?

January 7: Firsts of the New Year

In Japan, the first time you do anything in the new year marks something special, so for this swap I was supposed to pay attention to my new years firsts, write about them, and send them over to my partner. While trying to feel better about spending new year's eve by myself, I thought about about how irrelevant the date is. It's not tied to the solar circumnavigation; there are no crops to harvest or solstices to honor. The reason January 1 begins the year is because that's the day Roman consuls took office. It really doesn't mean anything in the universal scheme of things, which is the only scheme I ascribe to these days. Armed with that attitude, I didn't notice the first time I did anything, except for what I wrote on this postcard of drunken root vegetables.

I flirted with someone I hadn't even met yet, not just for the first time in 2009, but for the first time in ... seven years? I don't usually feel instant connections with anyone, but something about this person made me want to ask questions, find out about him, get him to talk to me, try to seem interesting. I didn't do a very good job of it (my housemates are incredulous that I couldn't think of a reason to ask for his number), but it felt really good just having the experience, and knowing that I'm not an alien who only likes the people she already knows.

After I'd already mailed the postcard, a more momentous first happened that I wish I'd written about instead. As meaningful as it felt to me, flirting is a silly thing to be telling a German guy who is married with two kids, likes to cook, and is involved with civic affairs (all this from his swap-bot profile). I'd rather have told him what happened at the end of a vinyasa yoga class. We were in shivasana, and I'd been imagining a balloon of light expanding in various points of my body as the instructor called them out. When we got back to my brow, I felt tears welling up - not an uncommon occurence lately, but usually I stifle it because I'm on the trolley and I don't know why I'm crying. This time, I let it go. My head started buzzing, then my whole body, and I thought, "this is what joy feels like." I have been either profoundly depressed or emotionally deadened by antidepressants for longer than I know, and this is the first time in my memory when neither is true. Even when I feel bad about things, I feel good. I'm happy even when I'm sad! Hooray!

German man didn't mind the flirting tale, by the way; he wrote in reply, "That was a really impressive story."

Friday, January 9, 2009

January 6: Glucksschwein

Here's the Glucksschwein explanation directly from the swap sign-up page: "When you are lucky, the Germans say "Du hast Schwein gehabt." This means You Have Had Pig. The saying dates back to hard times, when having a pig to eat meant you were fortunate indeed." The pig, not so much.

My partner and her husband spend their summers planting trees in the Canadian Rockies, during which time they live in a van. I thought Pass the Pigs, one of my favorite games, would be perfect for them (that's what's in the present at left, I forgot to take a picture before I wrapped it up). It's small, portable, and can keep you busy for hours. Trust me.

I had a terrible time finding one, though. It seems there is only one independent toy store in Philadelphia that isn't an hour away by transit (Happily Ever After at 1010 Pine), and although it looks like a good one with local owners and workers who know their product and are eager to help you find the perfect toy - a great plus to any locally-owned shop - it's not exhaustive and they didn't have Pigs. Did there used to be locally-owned toy stores around here before ToysRUs and then WalMart took over the market? There are several toy stores in the suburbs, mostly on the main line, and I beg Philly locals to support them next time you're toy shopping. Starting a business is the primary way people lift themselves out of poverty, and the more the big box stores control the market, the more impossible it is for people to help themselves.

The postcard up top is one that moves when you tip it back & forth. It's printed in Germany and even said good luck on the back! Perfect! I ended up mailing my own Pigs game to my partner. Next time I'm in Chestnut Hill I'll replace it at ODoodles.