Wednesday, May 30, 2018

Letter Writing

My youngest is spending the next three months in Wyoming.  She's working as the infirmary assistant at a backpacking / riding / outdoor camp.  She won't return until three days before she has to move back into her college dorm.  

I know she's going to have fun.  The camp has permits that allow them to pack trip, hike and climb in the Tetons and in the Greater Yellowstone Ecosystem.  I wonder if she's going to learn how to make splints out of branches or how to treat the flu with plants from the forest.  I know she had three days of wilderness first aid training coming up.....

because the camp is in the middle of nowhere.  There's no cell service or WiFi in camp.  That means, old school communications. Old school = snail mail.  I'm prepping for lots of letter writing.

I'm not like a prolific letter writer like Thomas Jefferson or John Adams, both of whose letters were rich and poetic.

Thomas Jefferson Letter to Reverend John Barrow, May1, 1815
Image from University of Cincinnati digital library
No, my letters are very dull by comparison.  I mean, how often can I engage my daughter talking about the basil in my garden?  How can I write lyrically about the daily turf war raging between me and the resident chipmunk family?  Nor do I think The Youngest wants to hear about hot flashes, my deep thoughts about politics and culture, or the themes from the latest book I read.  

Enter the postcard.  I can write snippets and send them off.  They'll be far more entertaining for her than a tome about mulching or dog walking.  And, with this nifty product I found, I can customize each card.  I simply print out one of my pictures on paper, and stick it to the back of the adhesive, pre-printed postcard.  

Look how some of them turned out!  I admit that I took a little memory joy-ride as I was sifting through my albums, finding good pictures to print.

I think they'll also be fun for her to receive.  I'll probably still make a few fabric cards, but these are so quick and easy.  I can probably make and send a few each week.  I managed to get my first off today.  I have lots more to make, to get her through the entire summer.  What do you think; shall I make a card with this picture? 

Too much?  Probably.

All that aside, I do enjoy writing letters and would like to do so more frequently.  It's fun to get something beside junk mail and bills in the mail. Anyone want a pen pal?  

Saturday, May 26, 2018


Do you get migraines?  If so, you're one of the estimated nearly ONE BILLION people worldwide who suffers from them.

I get them.  Those are the days when moving is difficult.  When light causes terrible pain.  (How can something that doesn't have form hurt so much?)  I'm nauseous.  All I want to do is lie in a fetal position in a dark room, jamming my fist into my right eye socket.  Scooping out a section of my brain with a spoon seems very appealing. No anesthesia necessary.

It's no surprise, then, that I was very interested in attending a recent screening of "Out of My Head", a documentary film about migraines.  The filmmakers interviewed doctors, migraine sufferers, and their families/caregivers to show how devastating migraines can be, as well as to illustrate some of the difficulties in treating migraines, since they don't present the same way in all people.   A few facts from the film:

*  Migraines are passed along maternal lines. 

*  75% of migraine sufferers are women.

*  Many neurologists don't want to treat migraine sufferers because there's no "cure", no definitive and permanent way to solve the issue.

*  Funding for migraine research is not commensurate with the number of people they afflict nor the $100+ millions of dollars lost due to worker absences on account of migraines.  At the time of filming, only $20million was allocated to funding research.  

* A migraine is more than a headache, though for some it results in enhanced creative output.   Apparently Georgia O'Keefe suffered from migraines and painted things as she saw them during a migraine.  During the Q&A afterwards with the filmmakers, some audience members shared their stories about creativity arising from their pain.

* Your head and your gut are incredibly connected.  Twenty percent of migraine sufferers have Irritable Bowel Syndrome, and 20% of IBS patients have migraines. There's also abdominal migraine, which typically afflicts children, and manifests as nausea and vomiting when no other symptoms are present.  My eldest struggled with this.  

A new drug targeting migraine prevention, called Aimoveg, has just been approved by the FDA.  It's the first drug of its kind.  It will definitely provide relief to some.  Hopefully its success will spur other large pharmaceutical companies to invest in migraine prevention medication.  

Do you get migraines?  I hope not.  But if you do, you're not alone.  Learn more and/or be part of the broader migraine community at the American Migraine Foundation. And, there are still opportunities to see "Out of My Head" in the NY metropolitan area and beyond.

(Graphic taken from American Migraine Foundation website)

Thursday, May 24, 2018

Work in Progress

I have a few projects with looming deadlines. I get distracted if there are multiple pieces on my design wall.  Because of that, I wanted to clear off a work in progress that doesn't have a "due by" date.  Besides, all my cut pieces were all over my sewing table.

My goal is to create the feel of ocean waves with the colors and the piecing.  I first wrote about this project here, last October.  Yes, I know; it hasn't moved for months.  (That's a solid clue to how busy I've been with other things.)  This past week, Foam (working title) got some TLC.   I've finished the segments that will make up the larger panels.  But now I don't know.  Do you think the bottom panel looks busier?  Choppier?  I'm inclined to rearrange some of the segments.  What do you think?

"Foam", a work in progress

Thursday, May 17, 2018

A Little Bit of Fizz

I ate too much at lunch.  My stomach is like a rock in my mid-section and I have a food baby.

Enter the carbonated beverage.  Thank heavens for those tiny bubbles.  They're my go-to whenever I've consumed more than my good sense should allow me to.

My entry into the 2012 Quilting Arts "Coffee or Tea" challenge.

I don't drink soda anymore, but I almost always prefer cold and fizzy drinks to something warm.  (And let me stop you right there.  No, I don't drink tea or coffee.)  As I sipped my "tonic" this afternoon, I wondered about carbonation.  So I did a bit of digging.

Here's some of what I learned:

* "Impregnating Water with Fixed Air" was the name of the 1772 scientific pamphlet written by scientist Joseph Priestly, describing the apparatus he designed to instill water with carbon dioxide bubbles.  (Fixed air = carbon dioxide) His initial intent was to discover a way to limit meat putrefaction aboard ships and combat scurvy.

* Joseph Priestly, it turns out, was a very important scientist.   He's credited with identifying eight different gases including oxygen, which was named by someone else.

* Priestly described the carbonated water he created as "an exceedingly pleasant sparkling water, resembling Seltzer water." To be clear, Priestly wasn't referring to what we know as seltzer water.  Instead, he was referencing the properties of the waters found in the springs around Seltzer, Germany. Many historians consider this discovery to be critical to the development of pneumatic chemistry.  ("Powerful Effervescence," Science History, 2008)

* Jacob Schweppe, an amateur scientist and an acquaintance of Priestly's, expanded on Priestly's work. In the 1780s, Schweppe introduced artificially created sparkling mineral water.  It was the precursor to today's carbonated beverage industry and, with the introduction of some flavored syrups, evolved into Schweppe's Ginger Ale.

* Some sources say that Thomas Jefferson sought Priestly's advice as Jefferson planned University of Virginia.

* Priestly was a highly regarded polymath and his scientific books were best sellers. 

Sorry that I didn't recognize your name, Mr. Priestly, or your accomplishments.

Joseph Priestly
© Royal Society of Chemistry, Library

Monday, May 14, 2018

The Wall Street Journal Praises Tim Gunn

I've enjoyed watching Project Runway over the years.  Some years there are designers I root for.  Other years I get especially annoyed by the drama.   Every season I'm fascinated by the creative process.  And I'm a bit smitten with Tim Gunn.  He such a wonderful mentor and I'm always impressed by his guidance.  He's one of the reasons I watch the show, season after season.  

It appears I'm not alone.

In October of 2017, The Wall Street Journal published an article called, "Seven TV Shows Every Executive Should Watch" by Alexandra Samuel.   The subtitle was "What you can learn from Tim Gunn, 'Brooklyn Nine-Nine', 'The Young Pope' and more."

You can access the article through this link.   Since I'm not certain how many of you have a subscription to the WSJ, I thought I'd transcribe the section about Tim Gunn here on my blog.  I think the author was spot-on in describing what is so special and effective about Tim Gunn's help in the work room.  (She also makes an interesting observation about the creative process. too.)  We could all benefit from Tim Gunn's critical review and feedback process in our lives.  (The excerpt, photo and image caption below were all taken from the article updated on October 27, 2017.)

Tim Gunn offers a master class in giving feedback on 'Project Runway'. PHOTO: BRAVO TV/EVERETT COLLECTION
Project Runway:  This long-running reality show is a laboratory for the creative process, since each season challenges a group of fashion designers to create a new outfit every single week.  One week they might be asked to create a ready-to-wear ensemble for a working woman, while the next week they have to assemble an outfit out of materials they collect at a hardware store.  Each week's aesthetic mandate and materials list offers a reminder of the value of constraints in fostering creativity: The best designs often emerge from the challenges that offer the least flexibility.  The other key ingredient? Skilled mentorship.

The mentorship comes from Tim Gunn, who provides feedback on each designer's work in progress -- and can teach any executive how to give better feedback.

Step 1: Before providing feedback on someone's work, check in on their goals.  Mr. Gunn always begins by asking what the designer is trying to achieve, so that his feedback is keyed to supporting their vision, rather than his own.

Step 2: Share your most important resource -- your professional history and experience.  Mr. Gunn's feedback often consists of pointing out when someone is echoing the work of a designer they may not know about, or if they're trying to execute a design that won't be feasible with their chosen fabric.

Step 3: If you've got negative feedback, articulate the problem directly, and then invite -- but don't impose -- a solution.  When Mr. Gunn sees that someone's in trouble, he tells them exactly what the issue is, and then points them in a direction to find their own solution.  If you want to deliver feedback that is candid and effective -- without being unkind -- this show is a master class.


Wednesday, May 9, 2018

Oil and Vinegar

Olive oils and wine vinegars, that is.

When I did a ride-along on my husband's recent business trip to Napa, I had a day to myself to explore.  The typical Napa activity is wine tasting, hopping from vineyard to vineyard sampling their wares.  That seemed a bit irresponsible for me.  I was on my own and didn't want to drink and drive.

Instead, I headed to Round Pond Estate to sample their olive oils and wine vinegars.  I hadn't even known that was something to do.

A few things I learned about olives:
1) Many vineyards will plant rosebushes at the row ends of their vineyards.  If there's something wrong with the soil, rose bushes will falter or exhibit signs of the problems pretty early.  I was told, "They shout pretty loudly when they're unhappy." On the other hand, grape vines don't let you know something's amiss until it's too late.  Because the roses will broadcast the news loud and clear, a vintner can address an issue before it becomes a crisis.  Interestingly, olive trees are also an "indicator" species of plant.  They're planted along the perimeter of the fields.  They share the news differently, but just as thoroughly.

2) All olives are green..... and black.  Green olives will mature into black olives.  There's not a varietal that starts off black and stays black.

3) There's about a six week window for harvesting olives in Napa: November through mid-December.  The "greener" the olive oil tastes, the "thicker" it feels on your tongue, the more likely it is that the olives in the oil were harvested earlier in the season.  Milder, smoother, "lighter", more buttery oils are made from more mature olives.

4) The proper way to sample olive oil is to taste it straight from a cup.  Just sip it, hold it on your tongue for a few seconds and swallow.  Bread is not involved.

CONFESSION: I don't eat olives on their own.  I don't particularly care for tapenade.  I like to dip bread in olive oil and balsamic vinegar in moderation.  Olives on their own don't have a flavor that's on my top-10 list.

You can imagine my surprise at how much I enjoyed tasting the different oils, how intriguing it was to discover how the various olive oils felt on my tongue.  How, in some cases, a lovely aftertaste lingered, and strengthened, after swallowing.  It was all very good.  I also enjoyed adding a bit of garlic and chili powder flavored olive oil to one of my samples.  (That's the orange-ish one.) Yum!


5) Olive trees don't start producing fruit for about five years.  Most producers will wait about eight years before they use the fruit in their oils.

6) Unlike a wine grape, the composition of the soil doesn't really impact the flavor of an olive.

7) Olive trees live and bear fruit for centuries. Apparently, there's a 2,000 year old olive tree in Jordan that's still bearing fruit.

A few things I learned about wine vinegars:
1) Specialty wine vinegars are made from the same grapes as the wines.  The end result is just very different.

2) The proper way to sample wine vinegar is with sugar cubes.  Yes, sugar cubes.  Dip a sugar cube into the sample cup to soak up a bit of the vinegar and then suck out the fluid.  The sugar will neutralize the acid of the vinegar and enable you to taste the flavor of the vinegar.  Until I tried this, I didn't have a sense of the variety of flavors. I responded, more or less, to the acidity of the vinegar.

3) Sugar cubes soaked in white wine vinegar can, if you can get it into your mouth before it crumbles, taste like candy.  Wonderful candy.

4) It's not a given that the grapes used to make a wine, will also work successfully as a vinegar blend.  The winemaker will assess the varietals and percentages that work best in both compositions.  Organic chemistry is a plus here.

I highly recommend this sort of outing to anyone heading to Napa.  It's a bit of fun off the beaten path.  Let me know what you discover!