what's making me happy 08.23.13: hair, nature, toast and shinola journals

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photos:
1) my daughter’s hair
2) black swallowtail caterpillars on my mother’s parsley
3) a weed going to seed, at gallup park
4) my mother’s honeysuckle
5) zingerman’s pecan raisin bread

The shadows are getting longer in the evenings. The tree frogs and crickets are singing with an almost deafening urgency at night. We are all feeling a little antsy here about the upcoming transition to our fall, and more intense, schedules.

I am feeling wistful about another summer gone; time going faster than ever.

And still, many things are making me happy this week.

Big thing: my little nephew, who has SMA, has been in the hospital with a respiratory infection, but he’s on the mend and is now bossing “his staff” around (the doctors and nurses).

Little things:

1) My daughter’s hair. Actually, that’s a lie. It doesn’t make me happy. It fills me with hair envy.

2) Nature. Caterpillars, flowers, trees, green, fresh air…Happy.

3) Zingerman’s pecan raisin bread. For those who don’t know,
Zingerman’s is an Ann Arbor based deli that has been featured in every food magazine/show in the US, maybe abroad. The owners made a conscious decision not to franchise and to stay local, but they do mail order and deliver bakeries and markets as far away as Chicago. Sorry San Fran, but you have not tasted sourdough until you’ve tasted Zingerman’s sourdough. No lie. I could write a whole post about Zingerman’s bread, but it’s making me too hungry to think about right now.

4) HAIM. I don’t know if it’s the music that makes me happy or the beauty and youth of these sisters…does in matter?

5) Shinola journals.
(they also make lovely bikes and are starting to make watches as well)

6)NYC old photo archives are fascinating…but a time waster (thanks Cath!).
article: http://www.dailymail.co.uk/news/article-2134408/Never-seen-photos-100-years-ago-tell-vivid-story-gritty-New-York-City.html
archive: http://nycma.lunaimaging.com

7) This old Kristen Wiig Confessions of a Tooth Fairy skit was posted on buzzfeed this week– which made me happy because it reminded me of when daughter and her friend did this for a variety show at school. It was a big hit.

8) Saw Woody Allen’s new movie, Blue Jasmine, last night…I feel like I saw it about 20 years ago but it was called A Streetcar Named Desire and it starred Vivien Leigh as Blanche Dubois instead of Cate Blanchett as Jasmine. I did enjoy it. Cate Blanchette and, my favorite, Bobby Cannavale, were wonderful. If you have not seen Bobby Cannavale in the Station Agent (with Peter Dinklage and Patricia Clarkson), or Win Win (with Paul Giamatti and Amy Ryan)…you should.

Here’s wishing you happiness and steadiness, as we transition from summer to fall!

of bonsai and roller derby

August 20, 2013

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photos:
1) my neglected bonsai gingko
2) roller derby sign of support
3) vicious and jax check out the competition
4) shutting out the jammer, kamikaze
5) low fives all around, rochella de ville
6) my, formerly pristine, roller skates from middle school. (yes i had my own. be jealous.)

When I told my mother that my daughter and I had attended a roller derby event last Saturday she was bemused. “Tell me again why you were interested in seeing roller derby?”

This is a woman who had called me to encourage me to enter the bonsai gingko tree that she gave me several years ago in a bonsai show taking place in Ann Arbor this weekend. I laughed, but could have easily replied, “Tell me again why you are interested in bonsai, Mom?”

I’m kidding. I do appreciate bonsai and I admire her interest in it. I love the little gingko tree she gave me, thriving despite my neglect. But the practice of bonsai is not my thing; it’s hers.

All of the reasons I don’t share her interest in bonsai are probably the reasons I enjoyed watching roller derby for the first time— bonsai requires patience, roller derby doesn’t; bonsai is elegant, roller derby is scrappy; bonsai is individual, roller derby is team-based, bonsai is serious, roller derby is full of good humor.

I’m not sure roller derby is “my thing.” I’m not much of a spectator of anything. I did find it fascinating. The names/personas are my favorite part: Vicious, Upzette, Justice Fast, Missy May Knock You Out, Czarcasm, Kimikaze. The faux tough names are as much a part of the show as the ripped tights and tattoos. I have never seen a burlesque show (which, by the way, like roller derby, seems to be moving toward mainstream around here), but I imagine roller derby and burlesque share much of the same campy showmanship.

The big surprise of the night: my 19-year-old daughter loved it and wants to learn to play. She does have skills. She had to learn to roller skate for a play a few years ago, using my nearly pristine white roller skates from middle school. She decided her derby name would be: Princess Slay-ya (a name used in Drew Barrymore’s roller derby movie, Whip it!, filmed right here in Ann Arbor and Detroit).

Why not yoga? Running? Soccer? All of the things I am interested in? I know the answer is…bonsai.

photo 111: assignment 7, urban

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photos:
1) westside books and vintage typewriters
2) lorax in the alley with a switchblade
3) backdoor pacific rim
4) lightpost behind ann arbor art center
5) lightpost near the lucky monkey tattoo shop

If you were asked to take a photograph that represents the word “urban”, what would you photograph? This is what my classmates and I were asked to do for our 7th assignment.

Living in a college town, we don’t find too much of what you might automatically think of as urban in our fair city. There isn’t a lot of…edginess here. We used to have funk, but we’re losing that too.

We do have homeless people and pan-handlers, who, come to think of it, would have been great subjects for an urban photo. But I’m not that bold and anyway, it seems disrespectful. I wouldn’t want to benefit from someone else’s suffering.

My classmates and I submitted photos of buildings, alleys, trash, a rusty lock around a chain link fence, a crane at a construction site for a new apartment building, kids skateboarding…

I wasn’t thrilled with my photos. It was February or March when this assignment was due; I didn’t feel like being outside for too long. And one guy in an alley saw me taking photos and followed me to talk with me. He was a little creepy, so I decided it was time to go home.

Do I sound like I’m making excuses?! Yes, I do, because I am.

Some of my classmates needed no excuses. They did a great job on the assignment. Wish I had their photos to share. One of my classmates took a beautiful photograph of Detroit’s Renaissance Center. I looked something like this, but his was a better shot.

Another took a great staged shot of a group of people in a bar with a bokeh effect on a string of lights in the background that looked like this and a little like the red lights in the last photos above.

I learned several things from my FAIL on this assignment:

• people who make a good effort, don’t need excuses.

• if you’re taking grand shots, there has to be a focus or an unusual angle that makes the shot interesting. I took many shots of old Ann Arbor buildings that I consider beautiful. But when I look at the photos, they aren’t interesting at all.

• people are always interesting, even if it’s just a person’s feet.

• animals are always interesting, even it it’s just an animal’s feet.

• the bokeh effect with lights is pretty cool to have in a background (not necessarily illustrated in the photo above).

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what is pomodoro time boxing?

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Sometimes I’m so overwhelmed by everything that I need or want to get done, that I can’t even think what to do next.

At these times, reading blogs and Facebook seems like a great idea. But two hours later, when it’s time to go to bed, I think about everything I should have completed in that two hour block and go to bed feeling worse.

I may have made a breakthrough this week! No, I didn’t hire a housekeeper (sigh), instead I have found help with maximizing my time: Pomodoro! (and Vitamin R)

Pomodoro is a time boxing/time management technique developed in the 1980s by Francesco Cirillo. The technique is named after his tomato- (“pomodoro”) shaped kitchen timer.

As Cory Bohon describes in his March 9, 2011 Chronicle of Higher Education article, “The Pomodoro Technique: An Overview”:

This technique uses 5 basic steps:

1. Identify your tasks to be completed
2. Set your timer to 25-minutes (or 1 Pomodoro) and begin working
3. When the timer ends, put a checkmark beside the completed tasks
4. Take a 5-minute break to rejuvenate yourself before the next work session
5. Wash, rinse, and repeat (minus the wash and the rinse)

After 4 consecutive Pomodoros (4 25-minute sessions, or almost 2 hours), you will take a longer break, say 15-30 minutes. After this break, you will repeat the normal process until your tasks have been completed.

I use a pomodoro Mac software called Vitamin R. They offer a 14 day Trial version, which so far I have been using for 4 days and I love it. I have been incredibly focused and efficient at work (no so much at home yet). It’s $29.95 after the trial version expires.

There is also a free pomodoro app for iPad/iPhones called 30/30 that I started using at home. It’s much more basic than Vitamin R (which will block applications and/or windows for your timed work period if you want it to, and it offers white noise, and verbal time updates when you schedule them), but 30/30 is still useful.

There seem to be many time boxing apps for iPhone and iPad. You may want to try find some online reviews.

So at work, I open up my Vitamin R, type in the task I will be working on, let it know if I want it to block applications and windows, then I set the time and I begin. I have it set up so that every 10 minutes it let’s me know how much time I have left. If I have I wandered off task, hearing “you have 20 minutes left” jolts me back to work. When the time is up, I am alerted by a sound (that I select) and then I rate how productive I was.

Next I decide if I want to take a timed break, an open break, or move on to another task. After 25 minutes of work, I always take a 10 minute break during which I make myself get up and move around. At work, I usually sit at my desk for hours on end, which is really terrible for my health, and for my legs in particular, since I sit cross-legged and hunched over.

My break often includes standing over a recycle bin while I go through stacks of papers on my desk. Once I’m through my piles, maybe I’ll take my breaks outside, or I’ll walk up and down stairs.

Once my break timer goes off, I settle in for another 25 minute work session. I really do feel more focused during these timed blocks.

The trickiest part of this technique, for me, is handling interruptions by my family and co-workers. I can turn my email off; I can set a limited amount of time to read the news and blogs; but I can’t tell my kids or boss to go away. I don’t WANT to tell my kids or boss to go away (most of the time).

I have decided, at work I’m going to announce that I will be closing my door to cut down on distractions for the morning/day/afternoon. I know people will understand, though it seems a little anti-social. But we have a pretty standard time in the morning where we share stories about our kids or discuss the latest news. I can shut the door after that.

At home, I may have to wait to use this technique when my family is away or occupied, or just pause my timer when they need me. I don’t consider that time as wasted. I see them so little these days.

To learn more about Pomodoro, like how to get better at estimating time for particular tasks, and how to increase focus, download the pdf of the book here (I have not read it).

If you come across, or already use, time management software or apps that work for you, please share!

bedside book pile 08.14.13

August 14, 2013

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bedside bookpile 08.14.13

Some of the books piled at my bedside include:

Letters To A Young Poet, by Rainer Maria Rilke
Am I again the last to know? I had never heard of Rilke until I recently read a Rilke quotation, “Be patient toward all that is unsolved in your heart and try to love the questions themselves…”

(Another Rilke quote,“Ah, how good it is to be among people who are reading!”)

Lean In: Women, Work, and The Will to Lead, by Sheryl Sandberg
Everyone has an opinion on this book, and I think many? Most? of those with opinions have not read it. I want to see what the fuss is about. I am ashamed to admit my first reaction to this book was, “Oh good grief, am I not doing enough already? And now you want me to play like a boy? No thanks.” Then my young, hip, cycling instructor asked if anyone in the cycling class had heard of Sharon Sandberg’s book. I was the only one who had heard of it. She asked excitedly if I had read it and seemed disappointed that I had not. She gushed about the book and said it had great advice for both women and men, working or stay at home. So, I just read the introduction yesterday where Sandberg clearly states, “Whatever this book is, I am writing it for any woman who wants to increase her chances of making it to the top of her field or pursue any goal vigorously.” (emphasis and bold are mine.)

She also says, “I am also writing it for any man who wants to understand what a woman—a colleague, wife, mother or daughter—is up against so he can do his part to build an equal world.”

I’m hooked and I’ll keep you posted.

They Dyslexic Advantage: Unlocking the Hidden Potential of the Dyslexic Brain, by Eide and Eide.
I started this one out of anxiety about my dyslexic son succeeding in high school…and since he’s doing well…it has been gathering dust. I should start reading it again as my anxiety has started to grow when I think about him keeping up with reading in college. He has two more years of high school, but no time like the present to worry.

Norton Anthology of Poetry
Because I can flip open a page and receive a gift, like this:

Those Winter Sundays
by Robert Hayden

Sundays too my father got up early
and put his clothes on in the blueblack cold,
then with cracked hands that ached
from labor in the weekday weather made
banked fires blaze. No one ever thanked him.

I’d wake and hear the cold splintering, breaking.
When the rooms were warm, he’d call,
and slowly I would rise and dress,
fearing the chronic angers of that house,

Speaking indifferently to him,
who had driven out the cold
and polished my good shoes as well.
What did I know, what did I know
of love’s austere and lonely offices?

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what's making me happy this week 08.11.13:

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photos
1. vintage saab station wagon
2. Finnegan enjoying his clean sheets
3. drying basil

The week had its ups and downs, moments of contentment and moments of discontent.

Some of the little things that made me happy this week:

1. Oh making me happy is this vintage Saab station wagon I saw in the shopping center parking lot. The owner told me it has a rear-facing pull down back seat, like this.

2. Finnegan makes me happy because he is cute, but he also annoys me. He would not move when I was making the bed, so I had to try to work around him, and the clean sheets were not clean for long…so much dog hair. Ugh.

3. Freezing basil makes me happy. I wash it, pat it dry with paper towels, then air dry it on waxed paper on a cookie sheet. When it’s dry, I roll up the wax paper and put it in a plastic bag and freeze for a day in the winter when I am in desperate need of some frozen summer.

4. The AV club’s undercover video series make me happy. They put together a list of 100 songs and invited bands to pick a song from the list to cover. I love the unexpected pairings.

Who knew a Journey song could sound so…true and lovely. Thank you Clem Snide for this version of Journey’s Faithfully (except not for the whistling. No thanks for that. Ouch.)

Forward to 1:28 in the video to get past the jibber jabber.

Again, I’m sorry about the whistling at the end of the song and the way the whistlers crawl into the shot to take a Tim Tebow pose and whistle off key while earnestly looking into each other’s eyes. What?! No. Nope.

5. I also love the Clientele covering MIA’s Paper Planes in the same series. (I like MIAs version too). No need to skip the jibber jabber on this one. Alasdair MacLean is adorable, as is his humility.

6. Did you read Geeorg Saunder’s Commencement Speech at Syracuse University, recently published in the New York Times? The basic message: err in the direction of kindness.

Have you read him? When he was on the cover the NYT magazine being hailed as the greatest american writer, I was skeptical. So I read Saunder’s, CivilWarLand in Bad Decline. I am still unwilling to say Saunder’s is the best American writer. Not because he is or isn’t, just because…who can say? Who gets to decide? But I am willing to say, he’s really good. Read him.

7. I love learning new kitchen tips. I never knew this easy way to cut basil into strips for topping my pasta and pizza: chiffonade Mais oui!

And I like this method for cleaning a cast iron skillet.

8. You have likely seen this already, but for those who haven’t, have fun being amazed at Roomba Shark Cat: http://www.tastefullyoffensive.com/2013/08/shark-cat-cleans-kitchen.html

Hope these help you ride out your own moments of discontent this week!

motawi tileworks, ann arbor

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I have been aware of Ann Arbor’s Motawi Tileworks for years, and thought I was familiar with their work. But I have also confused them with Pewabic Tile/Pottery of Detroit. Perhaps because Newal (pronounced somewhat like Noelle, I think). Motawi trained, after art school, at Pewabic.

I associated Motawi with earth tones, trees, landscapes and was so surprised when I looked at their tiles on their website. Motawi is so much more. Their colors are often vivid and I learned last week that they experiment with new palettes often. They have partnerships with the Frank Lloyd Wright Foundation, Charley Harper, Yoshiko Yamamoto and with Louis Comfort Tiffany design.

Most of their designs are original, such as this swallowtail, this koi pond, and this tile titled, “tropicana.” I love the tiny black birds.

Motawi sells installation tiles as well as gift tiles (that include an indent in the back for hanging). They also have a weekly 11am tour, which my friend Cath and I attended last week. The tour was wonderful and included the history of Motawi, as well as the Motawi Tilemaking process, and ended in the “seconds” section where prices are greatly reduced (seem to be 50% off).

I was surprised to see how many different people work on each and every Motawi tile. I counted 6 from start to finish, and that doesn’t include the design work.

I really loved the amazing tile fireplace pictured above. It was designed for, and installed at, an Architectural Digest conference.

Our tour was a little crowded with about 15 people, but we were told summer tours are usually quite full, with many out of town visitors in each group.

It was fun to get out and learn more about my this local business that produces nationally known tiles, and to see an artist making a living at her craft.

I did not end up buying any tiles; there were just too many to choose from and I have to decide where I want to hang them. Cath purchased the tree tile pictured above.

I can’t wait to visit the gift shop, and the seconds shop, again soon!

My photos don’t do the tiles justice. I think the best photos are on the Motawi Tile facebook page. Or, even better, you can see Motawi tiles up close and in person at galleries all over the US. See their list of locations here.

If you’re interested in more information on Nawal Motawi, read this great Ann Arbor Observer article from 2011. (It includes a cautionary business tale.)