Tuesday, January 31, 2012

JOT #31: What's new?

A while ago, I posted about being on the Compact - a pledge for a year not to buy anything new (but for certain exceptions).

More or less, this has now become a family philosophy. Even my die-hard Gap-loving DH now shops for dress shirts at the thrift shop (doesn't he look handsome in his vintage blazer?). Little One gets hand-me-downs from cousins, mostly. I get my sister's and friends' castoffs. Our placemats and tablecloths are fabric scraps. We haven't bought a camera in years (people always want to trade up!).

If you're squeamish about buying and getting secondhand, think of the benefits: you reduce the use of natural resources by not using new materials, you save energy in the manufacture of new things, and you often get something unique. You also often pay much less money for it.

It's a fairly simple switch in these days of technology. Check out craigslist for gently-used or like-new items. Post a request on freecycle. Ask your neighbors and friends and family for hand-me-downs. Shop at thrift and vintage and secondhand stores.

Soon it becomes second(hand?) nature.

The few things I don't buy used are the obvious: toilet paper, underwear, and household and perishable items, of course. Sometimes you might get a hand-me-down of those, too, like a half-full bottle of shampoo, or a last roll of TP when someone is moving out. It never hurts to ask!


Illustration Friday: forward

A woman, standing, leaning on her elbow, eyeing someone in the distance, her manner very...forward. Illustration Friday.

Monday, January 30, 2012

JOT #30: Tortoise cooking


The hare was fast, but napped and made a last minute dash for the finish line. The tortoise was slow, and steady, and won the race.

A familiar story in my kitchen, where an hour before dinner, I might scream, "Aah! Dinner!" and scramble to make something presentable before Little One comes whining for milk (aka I'm hungry).

If I could only remember to be the tortoise more often, slow and steady and planned. Instead, I occasionally rely on my slow cooker, or crock pot.

I inherited it from my mother, who used to make casseroles, but not too much else in it, an old-fashioned device with only three settings: Off, Low, and High.

It's simple: you put foods in with a bit of water, turn it to low or high, and let them cook. It can take anywhere from 1 to 10 hours to cook in this ancient machine, sometimes longer, and things will get homogenized (put in cabbage, and the whole thing will be flavored with cabbage). But what comes out is slow-simmered and flavorful in a way you can only replicate by standing over a stove for a day.

I like to cook beans and lentils in it, because they take time - they don't even necessarily need soaking much before you put them in. You can simmer a vegetable stock in there (add veggies, cover with water, cook).

You can make a simple soup: vegetables, some beans or lentils, water, salt, spices.

You can make chocolate cake, though my experience with this results in more of a fudgey pudding (my pot is truly ancient).

Look for ones with a porcelain or ceramic interior, not nonstick (you'll be cooking in it for a while). Check the instructions for the settings. Borrow one first to see how you like it. If you'd like to borrow mine, let me know!


Thursday, January 26, 2012

Seven things

I'm suddenly re-invigorated to get rid of things. Not just seven. Here are a few categories of things I've tossed:

  1. clothes, particularly ones that I hoped I could repair or make fit but really wasn't going to wear even if I did.
  2. toys - the ones my son doesn't really care about anyway
  3. books - kiddie ones that are outgrown, grown up ones i was kidding myself with
  4. jewelry box - this was a wedding gift so hard to part with, but i'd rather a friend use it than have it gather dust.
  5. fabrics - ones that will likely never see the inside of my sewing machine
  6. mismatched bangles
  7. project materials - ones i would ordinarily save indefinitely (read: old cereal boxes)

What are yours?

JOT #29: A solar oven

A few years ago, I went to a workshop with my mom - and we made our own solar oven. It took almost 4 solid hours and strong hands, with other people already doing some of the prep work. We cut corrugated board, metallic tape, smoothed everything, poked holes, trimmed, and finally we had something!

What is a solar oven? It's basically a box that's shiny to reflect the sun's light onto an object, which will heat up to cook. If you've ever tried to cook an egg on a sidewalk with a piece of foil (or glasses/magnifying glass - refraction) you've done some solar cooking. The oven is just more efficient, and offers you a place to put your food so that it is not on the floor :)

The solar oven is great because in the sunny months (or even on a sunny but cold day) you can put something inside in a black pot (black outside), cover it with a clear lid or plastic wrap, and it will cook in the sun. No electricity, no gas, just time. For example, you could put rice in there. Or soaked beans. Or vegetables. Or chocolate chip cookies.

The downside is time. Like a slow cooker, or dehydrating, or pickling, solar ovens take time. A pot of rice can take between 40 minutes (on a hot, bright day) to a couple of hours (partial light), to nearly never (overcast). Still, it's a great way to have food ready - put it in and let it be. Just turn it to the sun periodically if you're doing it over a long time. Some higher-tech (read: not homemade!) solar ovens do the turning themselves, and have timers and thermometers, and reach really high oven temperatures as well.

You can make a simple solar oven out of a pizza box here. It will make raisins over the course of an afternoon, or even make chocolate chip cookies. (ooh craft and JOT in one!)

For more "serious" cooking, here are some other models you can make.

You can fold yours away when you're not using it, and use it to dehydrate foods as well. It also makes a good little storage box when it's otherwise gathering dust. But on a sunny day, harness the power of the sun!

Wednesday, January 25, 2012

JOT #28: Drying

I have a confession to make: I have been using the dryer. It's cold and rainy and I am too tired to hang up clothes to let them dry for a week. But that's no excuse. I'm not being very eco-friendly this week. The next load will be better.

But this post isn't about that kind of drying. It's about another way to save food. When the sun is hot and bright, the easiest way to dry anything is out in it. But you can do it even in winter - just set some hibiscus petals in a window on a plate (in a single layer). Eat an orange and dry the peels on a cookie rack.

If you want to get more serious, you can get a food dehydrator. I found mine for $10 on craigslist, and it's cracked but works. I can make kale chips, raisins, chaisins (cherry raisins), dried apples, even fake fruit leather, or any dried fruit or vegetable, more or less. It's simple - just arrange the prepared fruit on the trays and plug it in. If you don't have a dehydrator, try borrowing one. In the meantime, an oven or toaster oven set on low (around 150-180oF) will work - you won't have to dry as long also.

To go even less energy-intensive, when it is hot, I put the food in the dehydrator and set the whole thing in my solar oven. Double duty! You can mimic this effect by using trays with holes in them (like idli trays or tiered steamer baskets) and covering up the whole thing before you put it out in the sun or a solar oven.

You'll never know until you've tasted your first homemade dried persimmon or orange slice. Delicious and addictive, and a great way to preserve extra fruit or veggies!

Thursday, January 19, 2012

JOT #27: Cook with scraps

As a save-the-last-bit-of-toothpaste kind of girl, one of my favorite things is to make stuff out of things I would otherwise throw away. You could, of course, make a simple broth with your food scraps, or do the slightly more interesting scrap vinegar, but why not cook up something more daring, with panache, with aplomb! Case in point: butternut squash...peels.

Peels, you're thinking. Really? A Google search for "butternut squash skin" leaves you only with the notion that it is edible. But what to make out of it? Traditional Indian recipes call for a type of chutney known as "thohaiyal" - and it can be made with lots of different things, like regular vegetables, the peel of a chayote, or of ridge gourd, of an orange (preferably mandarin, but any). But you can extend that to watermelon (including the white and green parts), or...yes, butternut squash. Presumably pumpkin as well!

Here are a few of my favorite cook-with-scraps recipes. You may also want to peruse this inspiring article on cooking with "trash."

Simple vegetable broth - this is best done by saving up scraps or on a day when you have a lot of them. Save them up, boil them up while onions are sauteeing for a soup, for example, then strain the broth directly into the pan. Or you can keep it in the fridge a few days, or freeze it into an ice cube tray and put in a bag for later.

Vegetable scraps
Water
Salt to taste
Herbs (parsley, celery leaves, etc, optional)

Put scraps in a large saucepan. Cover with water. Add herbs if desired. Bring to boil and simmer 1/2 to 1 hr partially covered. Strain and season as desired.
 
Scrap vinegar - No Impact Man made this famous. His recipe is here. (Please note: I haven't made this myself!)

Peel Thohaiyal (adapted from here)

Skin of chayote, butternut squash, ridge gourd, watermelon, orange peel*, etc – 1 cup
Curry leaves – a few, optional
Tamarind – a marble-sized piece or more, or 1 tsp paste
Black gram (urad dal) – 1/4 cup
Asafoetida – a dash
Red chillies – 2-3, optional (for my little one, I halve one dry red chili and discard the seeds)
Salt – to taste
Refined oil – 1 tbsp

Sauté the black gram in a little oil with asafoetida and red chillies until the gram turns reddish brown. Pour into grinder and let cool.

Add a little more oil to the pan and sauté the peel with curry leaves (omit leaves for butternut squash). Add water if needed, cover, and let cook until tender. Turn off heat and add tamarind so that it softens in the heat (if using fresh tamarind).

Put peel mix into blender with dal, a small amount of water and salt. (*Note: for orange peel, don't grind. Instead, chop peel into tiny pieces, removing any strings or fibers. You may also wish to add 1 tsp of sugar or jaggery if orange peel is bitter) Grind to a smooth paste. Refrigerate or freeze. Serve as a side chutney or mixed into rice with a drizzle of oil.
 
Watermelon Rind Sambar - follow any sambar recipe and use the watermelon rind as the vegetable. Separate the pink and the green parts (you can use the green for thohaiyal, and if you have enough pink sweet watermelon, make a soup!).

Watermelon Rind Petha - A long process but an amazing dish traditionally made with a type of squash known as marrow/doodhi. You could make it with apples or any fleshy/translucent fruit or veggie. I didn't use the rosewater or cardamom but you could.

1 medium watermelon rind - green parts peeled away, cubed into large pieces
3 cups sugar
1tsp + 2tsp lemon juice
3 cups water
1 tsp rosewater (optional)
3 cardamoms, peeled and seeds powdered (optional)

Prick cubes of rind with a fork. In a bowl, cover rind pieces with water and add lemon juice. Soak 2 hrs, then rinse (toss water). Drain and squeeze out water gently. In a saucepan, cover pieces with water and boil until they turn translucent and are tender.

In the meantime, mix sugar, 3 cups water, 2 tsp lemon juice and cardamom if using and simmer to make a syrup of one-thread consistency (forms a thread between two fingers when pressed and pulled apart). Use a slotted spoon to transfer the rind pieces to the syrup, and simmer a few minutes. Add rosewater if using. Mix well, then turn off heat.

After the rind cools, remove from syrup and transfer to parchment or foil. Let dry (over at least a day) until it is dry and chewy.

Carrot Greens Pesto - this is a simple pesto you could make with any greens - kale, collards, or whatever you have. It is hard to guess with carrot greens, nearly impossible with fennel greens, and a true ringer for pure basil in a mix. Choose either pine nuts or walnuts. Avoid substituting non-olive oil for the best taste. This can also go in an ice cube tray or container to freeze.

Bread Upma - I don't often buy sliced bread, but sometimes I bake and there is way too much bread left over before it will spoil (it's just a cereal week). So I love to make bread upma. You can make it two ways, dry or wet. I prefer the dry, but you might prefer wet!

Leftover bread (about 1 loaf), sliced
1/2-1 onion, minced
1T oil, plus more
mustard seeds (optional)
turmeric, dash
vegetables (optional)
1 tsp curry or chili powder
salt to taste

Heat oil and add mustard seeds. When they pop, add turmeric, chili powder, and salt. Add onions and saute until they brown. Add vegetables if desired and saute until they are cooked, a few minutes (you may wish to precook some firmer veggies). Proceed as below for dry or wet.

Dry:
Cube the bread and toss with a drizzle of oil. Add to the pan of spices. Mix well to coat until bread is toasted and fragrant. Serve with a chutney.

Wet:
Tear bread or cube roughly. Add 2 cups hot (preferably boiling) water to pan of spices. Stir to mix and return to boil. Add bread and stir rapidly so that it is all combined and wet. Keep stirring until the porridge-like mixture becomes more solid, until nearly crumbly (this will take some elbow grease!).

Other things you can use for cooking:
  • any citrus peel (candied, dried for tea, in chutneys and marmalade)
  • broccoli stems and stems of most greens (tough kale stems i use only for broth)
  • cabbage and cauliflower stems and leaves (chop and saute like greens)
  • radish greens, broccoli leaves, celery greens (yup, they're greens!)
  • corn cobs (simmer to release the juices)
  • orange and lemon leaves (dry or powder whole with salt and tamarind and chilies for a spicy condiment)
  • seeds of watermelon or any squash (roast and salt)
  • pizza and other bread crusts (freeze then saute up in upma or bread pudding, of course you can also save crumbs)
  • peels of potatoes and sweet potatoes, soft peels of squashes (make a chutney, or roast with salt and eat with dip)

See also http://www.2minutestodinner.com/category/otherwise for more recipes.

Tuesday, January 17, 2012

JOT #26: Freezing

No, that's not how I feel about the temperature outside (ok, yes, it is), it's about how you can preserve food in a fairly simple way.

Sure there are lots of websites about how to do it and ways to do it, but let me make it simple for you:

  1. Cut or prepare the food the way you want it to be served (eg: slice carrots, or cook up soup)
  2. Put it in a container (a ziplock or tupperware or stainless steel or freezer-safe glass)
  3. Label it with a sharpie - what it is and date
  4. Stick it in the freezer

To remove from the freezer, simply remove, defrost on the counter or microwave or in the fridge, and cook to desired cooked-ness.

There are a few other tips that will help you make the most of frozen things, but it can't get simpler than this. People have been freezing foods since cave-man times when Og (or more likely Mrs.Og!) stuck the leftover raw meat into the snow. It's been commercialized only this last century, but it has lots of benefits, like

  • No preservatives necessary
  • Keeps food fresh for eating later (months at least)
  • Inhibits most bacteria
  • Keeps nutrients in (aside from vitamin C, which is most easily lost in freezing)

I have a habit at home of freezing leftovers, of course, but also extra things I get in my CSA box - I can rinse a bag of grapes and throw it in the freezer for a treat later. Carrot greens become pesto and spooned into ice trays - then into bags or boxes to be thawed as needed. Here are some of the things you might not have thought about freezing:

  • Dairy products - milk, yogurt, butter can all be frozen
  • Breads - dough and sliced breads can be frozen. Thaw dough in the fridge and then let rise before baking.
  • Baked goods - muffins, cookies, cookie dough, bagels
  • Veggies - some do better after blanching, but if you'll use them soon, go ahead and freeze. I've been known to put a whole bag of spinach in - it's fine. Tomatoes can be sliced and frozen on trays then popped into bags. Corn cut from the cob, even bits of veggies - radish greens and cilantro bits and lemon peels make it in there.
  • Fruits - whole grapes, bananas (use later in smoothies), barries, even whole plums make delicious treats when it's hot, or blend them up for a sorbet or smoothie.
  • Starters - for yogurt and cheese, even bread.
  • Compost - freezing food scraps kills off any pathogens and fruit fly eggs that might find their way into  your compost bin.
  • Spreads and sauces - jams, chutneys, pestos, tomato paste (I never need a whole can!), applesauce (makes great kiddie popsicles) - these do best in ice cube trays first, as do baby foods.
  • Flours and powders - I store curry powders and flour for later use.
  • Nuts and coconut

Avoid freezing: food that's already been thawed from the freezer, rice dishes (they often have little luck), cream inside pastries, mayo/jello/custard/pudding/gravy.

When in doubt, don't throw it out! Freeze it.

Monday, January 16, 2012

Illustration Friday: prepare

If you have followed me a while ago, you might remember that I briefly flirted with Illustration Friday (www.illustrationfriday.com). Now that I am re-entering the world of art, I need motivation to keep me drawing and sketching and working. Therefore, for this week's topic, "prepare," I present:



This was inspired by a combination of my little one sitting on the couch staring off into space and me trying o think of what to draw. Just the very beginning of a sketch of a start. But a beginning nonetheless.

JOT #25: A drop to drink

I've never been one to drink plain water. I need an herbal tea, a cocoa, a spiced cider, a spritz of juice, or in dire circumstance, a slice of lemon. But drinking water is in our blood. Literally, we are seventy percent water. We want it clean, we want it pure, we want it nontoxic.

So begins the eternal debate over tap or bottled. We drink tap, but nearly always boiled (then cooled if needed) in a kettle first. Some drink bottled, but the eco-friendly drink filtered (tap or otherwise, preferably in a reusable container). Turn the faucet down low to cut down on waste. If you like it cold, keep a pitcher in the fridge rather than running the water.

There's also the issue of cooking water. Turns out, it is far more efficient to heat water in a kettle than in the microwave or on the stove, whether you are boiling water for tea or pasta! (more info: http://www.treehugger.com/clean-technology/ask-pablo-electric-kettle-stove-or-microwave-oven.html) Boil only what you need, or transfer your scalding water to a thermos to retain heat longer and have hot water all day.

You can also use steam to cut down on water use - steam veggies over your rice, for example, or steam them over your boiling pasta. Save water from boiled vegetables, pasta, or lentils for soups and curries, to make sauce, or as a stock. It'll also be great for watering plants.

Now if only I could develop a taste for plain old water.

Sunday, January 15, 2012

JOT #24: The lawn

Here in the US, I've lived a life where water is so abundant it's almost unbelievable: flowing freely from faucets, cascading from waterfalls, spurting from fountains, overflowing in swimming pools. It makes rainbows in the noon sun as it twirls from sprinklers.

In the meantime, there are droughts in Africa. Surely we can concede that watering our lawns is a waste of water when there are people without enough to drink? Here are some ways to help:

  • If you must water your lawn, do it in the wee hours of the morning or late at night to prevent evaporation.
  • Use cycles of deep watering - water 3-5 minutes, let it sit five minutes, and repeat up to two more times.
  • Cut down the number of times a week your lawn is watered. It's okay if it's not the perfect shade of green!
  • Stop fertilizing - chemical fertilizers take water to make, not to mention substances that can go into our drinking water.
  • Mulch instead. When leaves fall, spread them over your lawn and around your trees - they can help prevent evaporation and provide nutrients to the soil.
  • Check your sprinklers to make sure they're not going off onto the sidewalk or patio or spurting out water unnecessarily.
  • Try a drip irrigation system for your plants - a slow drip of water.
  • Consider converting a part or all of your lawn to native drought-resistant plants. Your city may even give you money for doing this!
  • Or pave it over, using permeable pavement and pavers so that the rainwater goes through and doesn't run off.
  • Plant a vegetable garden on your lawn (see earlier JOT) - that's so much less lawn to water!
  • Take your extra sink and shower water to the lawn and garden.

Let's make sure the grass is greener, and cleaner on every side of the fence.

Friday, January 13, 2012

JOT #23: Everything but...

The kitchen sink. There go the last tiny remnants of meals long forgotten, burned memories, morsels of lonely TV dinners, and the dregs of celebrations. They deserve better than an awkward scrubbing, don't they?

A few ways we try to streamline at home:

  • We keep a large saucepan in the sink over a drainpan. Into this goes clean water for rinsing. Slowly it builds until DH and I vie for who will do the last dishes so that the other has to go empty it onto the yard.
  • We switch between sprayer and full, move the handle left and right - hot to cold. The sink is a battleground.
  • We try to decide whether to fill the dishwasher (rinse or no? the dishwasher is only more efficient if you don't!)
  • We rinse dishes first in our saucepan in the sink (until it overflows, then we try to get each other to do the dishes) before scrubbing or loading in the dishwasher.
  • We try to eat what's on our plates. When that fails (often, with a toddler at home!), we take out all the scraps and debris and put it in the compost first.
  • On days when I have to keep the little one busy, I hand him a plastic bottle full of sink water, which he empties around the yard.

All this is, of course, when it's not raining. Which it isn't. Still. Which worries me. But then I knew this would happen. Didn't you?




Thursday, January 12, 2012

JOT #22: (Don't) Flush it down

From the shower, we move to the toilet, commode, potty, WC. Whatever you call it (tell me yours!) it's not a pleasant subject for most. Still there's water to be saved there as well!

  • Put a brick in, or a bag of water, or something hard and heavy, and you'll reduce your tank volume per flush
  • Use the "if it's yellow let it mellow, if it's brown, flush it down" rule
  • Use your shower water to flush! You can pour it in the tank, or if you're lazy, just into the bowl.
  • Invest in a low-flow toilet. Some use only 1.5 gallons per flush!
  • While you're at it, you can also get one with a dual-flush - light and strong flushing when needed!
  • Those tank-top hand-washing devices would be fun to install. The water you use to wash your hands goes into the tank fo the next flush!
  • Avoid putting other junk in there - just toilet paper. The rest goes in the trash.
  • Use TP sparingly - it takes water to make! Better yet, get a 100% post-consumer recycled one (some even go TP free and use a sprayer and cloth wipes!)

An uncomfortable subject to talk about, perhaps, but well worth the savings!

Wednesday, January 11, 2012

JOT #21: A better shower

As I've mentioned in previous eco-tips, saving water is something I try to do. It varies, but I try to save it in the shower. Fresh water is getting scarce. Here are a few ideas that may help you save water in your bath and use less of this precious resource.

- get a simple shower timer. i have one that is an hourglass set to 5 minutes. when i need to take a longer one, i flip it over
- while the water's warming up, save the water in a bucket. you can use that clean, cool water on your plants or lawn or garden or toilet
- keep a bucket under your feet while the shower's running. this water can be used to flush.
- switch to a lower-flow shower head. going to 2.5 gallons per minute will still give you a strong shower, but you'll be only using 12 gallons per shower. go lower and save even more.
- take navy showers: turn off the water while you soap up or shave.
- opt for a shower over a bath, or if you must take a bath, make it shallow. if you use a biodegradable soap, you can use the water on your lawn or, better, in the toilet.
- take bucket baths - fill a bucket halfway with hot water and then add cold to the temperature you like. use that to bathe.
- shower every other day if you can. you can wipe down with a warm, wet, soapy rag on other days to stay clean.
- use an eco-friendly soap bar or bath gel with poof that's not harmful to animals and which doesn't make your water unsafe to use elsewhere

Here's to a happy shower!


Tuesday, January 10, 2012

JOT #20: Buying in bulk

I've written before about milk from Straus (where the methane from the cows helps power the plant!) - now I find I can get a discount on the expensive glass bottles by buying a case at a time. I just asked at the store.

Buying in bulk has saved money as well as packaging. Taking old plastic or nylon bags to the store, we scoop just what we need from the bins, and transfer them to bottles (or leave them in the bags if we're lazy) at home. It means less waste (we don't buy more than we need), less packaging (we bring our own bags and write the product numbers down on a sheet of paper or on the side of the bag), and less money.

Another fun advantage is that I get to browse the bins and (occasionally) sample what I'm getting. Often it's organic or local, and almost always a healthy, unprocessed food like lentils or nuts or salt or flour. This is an easy way to make homemade granola or cookies or other baked goods that vary from month to month without a lot of expense.  You can also get tiny quantities of spices you may only use once or twice without buying the whole bottle.

My local store carries bulk flour (whole wheat, unbleached, and semolina), several types of granolas, salt, spices, nuts, dried fruit, lentils, oats, and rice. They'll special order large bags of staples so I save on shipping and packaging, with a discount as well. Fortunately for my hips, most of the things on the bulk candy aisle are not vegan!

Monday, January 09, 2012

JOT #19: Wiping up

If you come to my house, be prepared to blow your nose or wipe your hands or clean up with cloth, not paper. We made this switch a while ago, but I'm still contrite when someone wants a paper towel or kleenex. "Sorry! We don't have any paper." I offer them a clean hankie or a cloth napkin, and show them where to toss them. Often they use toilet paper or dig into their own stash. Occasionally I have stored up a few paper napkins someone has brought by from take-out.

The switch to cloth has made laundering a little more onerous (lots of little cloths to line dry!) but think of all the paper (and related water) we have saved! I make my cloth napkins and handkerchiefs out of old saris or tshirts or other clothes, so they are recycled already.

Consider your use of paper. There are so many beautiful options - pretty napkins with lace, embroidered handkerchiefs, or the utilitarian ones cut from vintage tshirts.

If you do buy paper, buy paper towels and facial tissues and wipes that have a high post-consumer recycled content (preferably 100%!). Tear a towel in half to use even less.

You can also make your own wet wipes by soaking paper and cloth in a dilute soap solution with a bit of aloe vera or glycerin in it. We use cloth wipes that go in the same bin with the dirty diapers for washing.

All in all, a bit of greener wiping up ought to leave the planet a little cleaner.


Monday, January 02, 2012

JOT #18: do your own mending

I'm not enough of a seamstress to really sew all my own clothes. I have, in fact, made a few decent things I can wear, but I lack both the patience or the skills to make pants and collared shirts and things with zippers.

So, speaking of zippers, today in the wash, the zipper fell of a beloved hoodie, and I can't stand a zipperless jacket. I might have done what I have done in the past, which is to just sew a straight seam up behind the zipper and turn the thing into a stylish sweatshirt, but I like my open jacket, darnit! So, when DH fished the errant zipper from the machine, I had to try putting it back on. There was a spot where the hooks had opened up, and I was able to use two sets of pliers to open up the zipper case (the main body of the zipper) just enough to slip it on, then press it back into place. It took me about 10 minutes (most of it just for lack of strength). Zip, zip, zip!

I like to do small mending jobs - a little patch on ripped knees, sewing up tiny holes where the shoulder separates from the shirt, sewing buttons back on (or moving them when the midsection stretches!), putting in darts on blouses when they fit like a man's, hemming up jeans for flats. Mending gives you the satisfaction of making something wearable without the difficulty of really making the thing. You save something from the toss pile, and you get more mileage out of your clothes and accessories!

If you're not inclined to sew, find a friend or neighbor who does, and trade a skill you have (eg: I would gladly trade a baked good for fixing a zipper!). You can also find a good tailor or alteration person in your neighborhood (check the dry cleaner). If you want to sew, start with something simple, like buttons, and work on stitches. The good thing about mending is that it's often a small job you can do quickly. I like to put the mending that needs doing in a basket and get to just one thing when I have the time.

Sunday, January 01, 2012

Writing and drawing

Happy new year!

When I was six (and 12, and 19), if someone had asked me to choose between being an artist and a writer, I wouldn't have been sure. Somehow, in real adulthood, the possibility of art dropped away, and since everyone writes, I felt I could, too.

Fast forward through unfinished short stories and novels, hundreds of poems published only on the internet or to close family, and my current art expertise consists of making pasta landscapes in my son's preschool.

So, imagine my surprise when I was asked to do the illustrations for an unpublished children's book. Really? Me? An illustrator? I reacted with a mix of excitement and terror.

So here I am, relearning perspective and shading and brush techniques, stumbling between black and blue pens, constructing blending stumps out of the recycling bin. I'm back at art school, and loving every minute of it. In the meantime, I hope to create a few pieces of art that actually will suit the work and look publishable. Let's hope for the best!

Here's to new adventures this year!