Kintsugi: Creating Art out of Loss

Many thanks to reader Maribeth for turning us on to this subject, and sharing a great video. I liked it so much I had to share it with you all in turn.  She sent us this nice short article on Colossal, which has an overview, more photos and some good links to explore, as well as the video I’m embedding here.

Kintsugi is the Japanese art of mending broken ceramics with gold or silver lacquer patching which emphasizes rather than hides the break patterns. The resulting piece is often more beautiful than the original, an embodiment of wabi-sabi, and an invitation for meditation on beauty, loss, transformation, wounding, scars, entropy…  The responses, I suspect, would be as individual as the viewer.

This art-of-mending seems related, somehow, to the “oh no, it’s the end times!” stuff Erik and I were blogging about last week (here and here). Kintsugi is such a subtle, wise practice. It’s not about fixing something good as new, as if it had never broken, but acknowledging that breakage, and making something new and beautiful out of disaster, via the practice of mindfulness. Perhaps we can learn something from this.

Please do check out the video–it’s short and beautiful. In it, a young craftsman explains the rising popularity of this 400 year-old art form in Japan, says, ” …people are realizing that chasing after money and new stuff and new technology will not make us rich in (s) spiritual way.”

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image: Wikipedia

Easter Lessons

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So, facing an overabundance of eggs, and having hard boiled a dozed out of desperation and having espied a charming post on naturally dyed Easter eggs, I decided to have a go at dyeing eggs on Saturday night.  The eggs our ladies deliver are all shades of beige to brown, so I worried that they’d not take dye as well as white eggs, but the post promised good results with brown eggs, and the dyes were deep and earthy enough that it seemed it would not matter.

The technique was simple–a one to one ratio of organic matter to water, boiled 15 minutes or more, cooled, and then spiked with vinegar. The eggs soak in this mix for as long as you like, perhaps overnight, refrigerated. I tried out onion skin (russet dye), red cabbage (bluish dye) and hibiscus flowers(purplish). All looked well. I went to bed imagining the rich, solid colors I’d find the next day, the arty pictures from the original post dancing in my head.

This morning I pulled my eggs from the fridge, all excited, only to find something had gone wrong. The onion skin eggs looked all right at first, a nice rusty shade, but when I touched them the color came off, a thin layer of colored slime peeling aside to reveal a much paler egg below–an egg perhaps still of its natural color. Same for the cabbage. The hibiscus was a total nightmare–for some reason its slime was thick and bubbly and black and utterly disgusting. I mean, like Black Plague-level disgusting. Easter buboes! Zombie eggs!

Here’s my theory: chickens coat their eggs with a protective coating before the eggs leave the “factory.” Just like auto manufacturers! This protective coating is called the bloom. The bloom is washed off in industrial egg production facilities because the eggs have to be washed and sometimes bleached to get the filth off them before they go to market. So bloom is never an issue when dyeing store-bought eggs. I’ve never tried dyeing our own eggs before, and I believe the bloom was interfering with the dye’s adhesion. If I try this again, I will give the eggs a thorough washing first.

What do you think of this theory? Any similar experiences?

Anyway, all was not lost. When I washed all the slime off the eggs, I found that some color did get through, and it came through it truly random and marvelous ways. My eggs don’t look so much like Easter eggs, but more like rocks, or dinosaur eggs. I didn’t get what I was expecting at all, but instead I got something kind of wonderful. That’s DIY in a nutshell for you.

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Quick Relief for Poison Oak

young poison oak

Image courtesy of Wikimedia Commons

I went camping in Poison Oak Central last week, and though I tried to be careful, I got a kiss on the back of the hand from our rakish woodland friend, Toxicodendron diversilobum (Pacific or Western Poison Oak).

It was, miraculously, the first time I’ve ever had poison oak. I don’t know how I’ve been so lucky so far.  I’ve heard that rubbing native mugwort on the skin can prevent/treat the rash, and I’ve done that a few times when I suspect I’ve brushed against some poison oak. (Mugwort almost always grows where the poison oak does.) Whether all these emergency poultices prevented anything or not is impossible to prove, because I’ve never contracted a rash until this time. I’ll keep doing it, though.

After avoiding the green bandit so long and so well, I was almost happy to get hit at last–in this mild way, mind you–because I was curious to see what the rash would look like and feel like. My exposure really was a kiss. It landed exactly where a gentleman would press his lips to a lady’s hand. Three watery blisters appeared on my knuckles after about 24 hours, accompanied by lots of general redness and itching.

First I poulticed with both mugwort and plantain, but that only worked so-so. Then I hied off to the internet and sifted through the many folk cures until I found one I liked from good ol’ Dr. Weil. He recommended running hot water over the rash, as hot as you can stand it. I don’t remember that he said how long you should do this, but I decided to do it as long as I could stand it, which in my case was probably a minute or so. He said the heat will cause the itching to flare temporarily, but then suppress the itching for hours, and speed healing as well.

Results? It worked like a charm for me. Of course, you want to be careful not to scald yourself and add insult to injury! But with that caveat aside, I definitely recommend giving it a try. I particularly liked that I could do the treatment before bed and fall asleep without itching, and be good until morning, when I’d do it again. All in all, once I discovered the hot water cure, I had bug bites which bothered me more, and lasted longer, than the poison oak rash.

What do you do for poison oak/poison ivy? And to anyone who has been lucky enough to run into both plants, is there a difference between the two in terms of the rash? Is one worse than the other? I’m only familiar with poison oak.

My Brand New Homebrew Soda Carbonator

a present? 4me?

Erik won the good husband award this Valentine’s Day. He surprised me with my very own soda making machine. This is not a SodaStream–it’s better. It’s an industrial strength CO2 tank topped with sturdy dials and valves and whatnot, all sourced from the local homebrew shop. He’s going to do a how-to post soon (tomorrow maybe?) on how to put together the parts, and how to use it. So hold on for those details! Right now, I’m just going to gush.

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The tale of the tub scrubber

white and purple bath puffs

I’ve used the purple bath puff on the left in the photo above to scrub my bathroom sink and tub for eight years. Eight years! It’s a little shocking now that I count back. (Puff n’ me, we’ve done a lot of scrubbing. Good times.)

I received this puff has part of a gift set of bath items. I don’t enjoy using puffs in the bath, personally, so decided to try it out on the shower scum instead, and found it worked amazingly well in conjunction with the vinegar, soapy water and baking soda I use to clean the bathroom. It didn’t hold dirt or get grungy. Only now, after all this time, has it started to deteriorate and leave little purple bits of itself behind after a scrub.

This is not a deep post — I just wanted to point out that sometimes we can make good use of things which would otherwise end up in the garbage. Purple Puff is finally going to the trash, and will live out its sad, eternal half-life compressed in a landfill, but at least it served a purpose for a while, and did some good work. While I try to avoid buying plastics myself, it feels right to make good use of the plastic jetsam which tumbles into our lives.

At this point I could switch to biodegradable cleaning implements–like cotton rags and loofah sponges (which you can grow, if you have a long growing season!) — but in the back of my bathroom cabinet I have another gift puff, a white one, waiting to be called into service.

Do you have any plastic recycling tales to share?

A viewing suggestion from the media arm of Root Simple

I really enjoy learning about technologies that are basic enough that I feel like I can understand them–and maybe even replicate them. The technology of Tudor-era in England is by no means primitive, but it also is not as complex and machine-based as the tech which takes off in the 19th century and accelerates so quickly into the present era. I would be hard pressed to explain how anything around me works–from this machine I’m typing on to communicate with the outside world, to the electric light burning beside me.

Bless the BBC for making Tudor Monastery Farm (a title which I believe would not fly on American television). This is a quiet series showing three historians/archeologists at play in the Weald & Downland Open Air History Museum, trying out some of the skills they’d need to be tenant farmers to the local monastery. It has some of the structure of a reality show, but it seems that no one really wants to go that direction much, so with the exception of a bit of camera confession about the urgency of getting the peas planted before Easter, there is none of that annoying reality show faux drama. Instead, it’s just full of juicy nuggets for the appropriate tech geek.

The series is on YouTube. I pray the BBC doesn’t take it down before I get to finish it.

In the first episode alone, they cover goodies like:

  • Coppicing
  • How to make two type of fences: a hazel wattle fence and a dead hedge fence, both of which can be made with a machete and a club
  • Treadwheels: Giant human powered hamster wheels which, along with water wheels, were the engines of their time.
  • How to make rush lights out of sheep fat and rushes.
  • An almost forgotten food plant called Alexanders, which is a Mediterranean plant related to parsley, which I’ve never heard of but now want to plant in my garden.
  • Tips on calligraphy done with quills. Did you know the quill has to be almost horizontal in the hand?
  • And how to make a paintbrush out of a feather and a stick. Marvelously clever, and the secret to the fine lines in illuminated manuscripts.
  • How to make a magnifying glass out for working the detail in said illuminated manuscripts.
  • How a Tudor gentleman literally sewed himself into his clothes each day, & the mysteries and marvels of the codpiece. (I suppose that if I were transported to that era I’d eventually stop staring at the distracting cords dangling from gentlemen’s crotches. You’ll see what I mean.)
  • You get to meet one of the last working teams of oxen in England (sad!), and see what it takes to plow a field.
  • How to build and wattle and daub pig house
  • And finally, very exciting, there’s a cameo by Robin Wood, the last professional wooden dish carver in England. I’ve seen his videos (where he looks much less dorky than he does in Tudor gear) and actually have one of his bowls. He carves beautiful bowls and spoons, his only tools his hatchet, his carving knives, and a foot operated pole lathe. The foot operated lathe was in use for nearly 1000 years, but now is almost extinct. It’s a wonderful piece of technology. Robin makes it look simple, but I’m sure it takes mad skills to use.

And that’s just the first episode. Ale and cheese, blast furnaces and sheep shearing to follow!

One last take away: Because my undergraduate degree is in art history, one thing that really struck me was how much everyone in this show looked like characters out of a Bruegel painting. If you know Pieter Bruegel’s work, you might remember how all his people have this particular stocky, stuffed, oddly jointed, funny-footed sort of look. I thought this was an artistic affectation.  Turns out it’s just the way the clothes fit. Pieter, I did you wrong. You were just painting what you saw.

pieter bruegel's painting, The Peasant Wedding

New Project: Making Bitters

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Our friend Emily Ho over at The Kitchn recently posted a good set of instructions on how to make homemade bitters. Bitters are made up of various aromatic substances tinctured in alcohol. These flavorings can be used to concoct fancy artisanal cocktails. True bitters are made with sharp, bitter herbs, like wormwood and dandelion–their original purpose was to stimulate digestion, and you’ll find them used often in appertifs. But the definition has widened to include all sorts of aromatic flavors, from resinous flavors, like pine, to sweet, mellow flavors like vanilla, to floral notes, like lavender.

Personally, I’m interested in creating an arsenal of interesting flavors to create sophisticated, adult-palette mocktails by using homemade bitters to add interesting flavor notes to drinks created with fruit juices, homemade syrups, teas and soda water. My first set, a few of which are in the photo above, are currently steeping. In future posts I’ll share the recipes I develop as I follow this path.

In the meanwhile, making your own bitters is really easy. You may be able to throw a few experiments together just using things you find in your spice cabinet. Since these are flavoring, not medicine, you don’t have to be as careful with the quantities and timing as you must be when tincturing herbs for medicine. Yet at the same time, it’s a great introduction to that essential herbalist’s craft. Read her post, and have fun!

How to Make Homemade Bitters: Cooking Lessons from The Kitchn.

Shoemaking Advice?

oldest known leather shoe

If only my shoes will turn out this well. The oldest surviving leather shoe: 5,500 year-old shoe found in a cave in Armenia. Photo by Gregory Areshian. Via National Geographic

My post about homemade mattresses turned out to be one of the most popular ever on this site. (By the way, I’m still putting up with our old mattress, but one day I will be letting you know what I’ve decided to do about the new mattress) Meanwhile, I’m wondering if this one will be half as popular. Are people as dissatisfied with their shoes as they are with their mattresses? Probably not. I know I am–but this is mostly my own fault. I’ve spent too much time barefoot and my feet don’t seem to fit store bought shoes anymore.

Don’t get excited, shoe questioners: I’ve got nothing for you. I’m asking for help. Have any of you made your own shoes? I’m looking for good resources on shoe making: books, videos, etc.  I’d also love to hear stories of successes or failures or lessons learned.

I’d like to make leather, soft-soled shoes as first project perhaps moccasins, perhaps something more structured.

I have two books right now. One is Shoes for Free People, by David & Inger Runk, published in 1976 in Santa Cruz. As you might expect, it is highly groovy. And as you also might expect, the text is hand lettered and the illustrations are crude line drawings.

(Children, this was the way of things in the 70′s.  In defiance of Gutenberg’s advances, books were hand lettered, and for some equally puzzling reason every kitchen seemed to have a decorative plaque made of lacquered bread dough. The subject matter was usually a mushroom, or a cluster of mushrooms. Sometimes an owl. More rarely a Holly Hobby-type figure. Here endeth the lesson.)

Free People actually seems like a fine book. It basically steps you through making one basic type of shoe that you can modify in different ways. Erik wailed about the horrible hippie-ness of it all when I showed him the illustrations of what I might make, but he wears cheap Chinese martial art shoes, so I don’t think he has moral or aesthetic high ground here.

The other book is The Make it Yourself Shoe Book by Christine Lewis Clark. Not so surprisingly, this one was published in the 1977. The 70′s seems to be the last time anyone tried to make their own shoes–outside of Portland, that is.

Please tell me this is not true.

Recycled Dish Scrubby

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My dish washing accoutrements consist of cotton dish cloths–which steadily devolve lower and lower down the Rag Hierarchy as they age–and homemade scrubbies. I make my scrubbies out of net produce bags, as you can see above.

I know. I know. It’s stunning, isn’t it? A marvel of artisinal craftsmanship, if I don’t say so myself. I didn’t think anyone could top my scrubby until I ran across this:

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The folks at Mooberry Farm actually take the time to stack and fold their net bags into a rectangle, then they blanket stitch the sides together, and then crochet around the edges to make it extra cute.

Now that’s a stylish scrubby! Check it out.

I think I’m going to have to make one of these.

Why are the pockets on women’s clothing so lame?

trout sewing

Trout likes himself a sewing project. Especially one he can lay on. Or gnaw on.

What is with women’s clothing? Why are all of the pockets sized somewhere between tiny and non-existent?

There seems to be some misguided belief that women inherently carry lots of stuff, therefore must carry bags, therefore do not need pockets. This is false. Women carry bags because we have inadequate pockets, and we figure we may as well carry extra stuff–because why not? We have to carry the !&^%$  bag anyway. It’s a terrible cycle.

Another belief seems to be women don’t want pockets because they will bulk up the sleek lines of our fashions, making us look chunky through the hips. And it is true that form-fitting clothing does not leave room for bulky pockets. There are indeed occasions and outfits that call for a handbag. For instance, I am happy to carry a clutch when I shimmy into my black latex sheath for a special night in the dungeon, believe you me.

But what about jeans with fake back pockets and front pockets only as deep as your first knuckles?  Or what about business trousers with pockets too shallow to hold a phone? Or suit jackets sans any pockets at all. True confession: I have inner breast pocket envy. The inner breast pocket is the one of the most secure, useful pockets ever created, and yet they are scarce as hens teeth in women’s clothing. Whence this tyranny??

Or case in point: what about a casual jacket with motorcycle/military styling which promises a plenitude of pockets, only to disappoint?

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I found this jacket at a thrift store recently. I’d been wanting a light summer jacket, and was so excited to find one that fit that I bought it without checking the pockets for size and…genuineness. Is that a word? (FYI gentlemen readers: fake pockets run rife in women’s clothing.) I was lucky that all the pockets on this jacket are at least real.

But I was disappointed to discover that the lower pockets, with their promising, practical zipper closures, were only 3″ deep, rendering them impractical for carrying anything bigger than a tube of lip balm or maybe a little cash wrapped around a drivers license.

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Ya call these pockets? Hang your head in shame, Ann Taylor LOFT.

I want to wear this jacket, so I decided to expand the pockets into usefulness.

Now, I’m no sewing maven. I hesitated even to post this because I am absolutely unqualified to teach anyone to sew. Rather than admitting I’m pretty much incompetent, I prefer to think of myself as a primitive or naive sewer. Sort of paleo. It’s all about the bone awls for me. Basically I can hem and mend things. I sew by hand because I can’t remember how to thread our old sewing machine.

I suspect the proper way to enlarge pockets is just to replace them entirely, but the stitchery and zipper closures on this particular pair of pockets intimidated me, so I decided to enbiggen them by simply adding fabric to the bottom of the existing pockets.

I should add here that any alterations shop (like the sort attached to dry cleaners) would replace pockets for you, and probably wouldn’t charge you all that much. But here it the Casa de Tightwad, any money is too much money.  This is what I decided to do. Imitate at your own peril.

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