Monday, November 26, 2012

Neighborhood architecture award

I hereby bestow my own architectural award for a new building in our neighborhood. It's a new Little Free Library that neighbors have put up in front of their house. (I've blogged before about these little libraries where you can leave a book and take another one in exchange.) This is the cutest little library I have seen, and given the competition in the cuteness category, that is saying a lot.
The attention to detail is wonderful. Someone cut little shingles and put bricks around the base below the to-scale siding. It has a dormer and well trimmed windows. However, the cutest thing about it is that it matches the owners' house, which is in the Marquette Bungalows Historic District. I also appreciate the added touch of a bench for library browsers. 
I've already become a regular patron of this library, which always seems to have at least one book I want to read.  

Monday, November 12, 2012

Islamic inspiration

   A notable feature of Islamic art is the use of geometric abstractions because of the avoidance of representational art, which is considered potentially idolatrous. At a caravanserai—a stone fortification where caravans stopped for a night along the Silk Road—we saw this wall carving.

These kind of carvings reminded me of interlocking designs on some temari balls and I resolved to try stitching something using a lot of interlocking when I got home. My first attempt is this fairly large ball. (The pattern is 99DA05 by Debi Abolt on page six of the patterns on
Notice the five pointed star. The first layer of the ball, with the stars more obvious, looks like the photo below. To complete the ball, interlocking tri-wings are added to each of the twenty hexagons. By the way, Mr. Rududu assures me that those hexagons cannot be regular because of the way they are formed by the 20 overlapping large triangles.
I found it very difficult to know how to interlock the pattern. It was particularly hard to know which way to go when only some of the threads were laid down. Trial and error isn't an attractive option so I made a little strip of paper as a template indicating where to go one way and where to go the other as a I added a new thread. I only pinned it to take the photo; normally I just held it up to the side of a triangle to check what to do.
Meanwhile, Mr. Rududu was exploring overs and unders with mizuhiki, a kind of paper cord from Japan. He made a bunch of lovely knotted pendants. The ones in the top center and lower right of the photo are based on a pendant we purchased in Turkey.  The two left-most knots on the bottom are flattened Turk's head knots from The Ashley Book of Knots (copyright 1944). The top right pendant is a Japanese knot. The top left pendant is a knot that Mr. Rududu invented.

Sunday, October 28, 2012

Swirly stars

I just finished a temari I've been planning to stitch for quite some time. Barbara Suess published the pattern on her blog last December and I had to learn a few things before I could try it. Things like how to make a really large ball. This one has a circumference of 43 cm/17".
I also had to learn about swirl stitches, which form the first layer of this ball. I think I can still learn a lot about how to make the swirl stitches neat but I think the finished ball came out looking cool in spite of my less than perfect stitching.
I chose my own colors and couldn't help thinking about a grade school teacher that claimed that red and pink just could not be used together. Ha!
   Adding the last step of white continuous path stitching is almost magical in how it makes the stars  appear more and more clearly. Thanks for a lovely pattern, Barb!

Monday, October 22, 2012

Except bikes

  When we traveled by bicycle in Italy, I loved the many signs indicating where bikes could go where cars couldn't. A wonderful thing has been happening in Madison recently. Signs like these are popping up all over.
It's getting much easier to get where one needs to go in the city. I like to see people using bikes as transportation as well as a healthy sport.
Some neighborhoods limit direction of car traffic but let bikes move freely so they can stay off busier streets.
Bikes are quiet and relieve traffic congestion—so shouldn't their riders be given respect and an occasional special perk? I wish that I could remind the less patient drivers that every bike represents a car that isn't in their way. At least the local traffic engineers are catching on.

Monday, October 15, 2012

Origami Butterflies

Mr. Rududu was recently all aflutter with the designs in Origami Butterflies by Michael G. LaFosse et al. from Tuttle Publishing. It came with paper with a different color on each side. Most origami paper is white on the reverse and that wouldn't work so well for making colorful butterflies such as this swallowtail.
Soon there was a cloud of paper butterflies in our house, of many species.

Sunday, October 7, 2012

Oooh! Oya!

   We just got back from a trip to Turkey. It was someplace I wanted to visit for years and it more than lived up to expectations. We saw many amazing things like ruins of ancient cities, swam in turquoise blue water, and ate delicious food at every single meal. One of the coolest things I saw were the oya: very finely crocheted lace edges on headscarves.  Here a woman uses a knitting needle to hold loops that she then crochets into. As you can see, the crochet hook is teeny and she has picked up stitches directly in the edge of the scarf. One can also buy oya that are made separately; they come in a 4 meter length as the scarves are very large.
 I bought my oya-edged scarves directly from a couple of women that hosted our tour group's lunch in their homes when we visited their village. After only finding somewhat mediocre oya in Istanbul, it was a wonderful surprise to walk into the dining room and find a bunch of scarves laid out in the most low key sales situation ever created. (I had to ask if they were for sale; I thought maybe they were just a presentation to show us what they did.)
I particularly liked the way the women matched the colors and motifs to the image on the scarf.
Even in the realm of oya, the amount of work in this one is mind boggling. I put in a pencil to give an idea of scale. Although while in Turkey I used one of my scarves to cover my head when I visited mosques, they look very nice as shawls over a blouse or sweater.
Later in the trip, I found an adorable necklace with these flowers that look like fuchsias. It includes seed beads.
I stand in awe of the craftsmanship of the oya artisans of Turkey.

Monday, September 10, 2012

One thing leads to another

Stitching temari, as in other crafts, one seems to get into series. Exploring variations in temari can be easy because an average ball can be finished quickly. In my recent exploration of the hemp leaf stitch, I did one ball where hemp leaves were under the mitsubishi or "three diamond stitch." (Yes, it looks like the emblem for the car.) Next thing I knew, I was doing variations on diamonds.
 Variations can produce more diamonds. The blue and green balls is the four diamonds pattern (yotsubishi). I'm sure I will soon be on to the five diamonds pattern (itsutsubishi).

The nitty-gritty: Instructions for the diamond patterns can be found in Barbara Suess's Temari Techniques.

Monday, August 27, 2012

Sock spectrum

   I recently finished two new pairs of socks. One pair is green, the other purple. That happens to be my favorite color combination, so I guess I could wear one of each sock.
  Thinking about what colors I have knit socks in, I gathered the ones I have now and took a group photo of them arranged in my personal color wheel.
Other than small areas, there is no yellow and very little orange. There are no grays or browns. Dance on, my feet, in your cheerful greens, blues, purples and reds!

Monday, August 13, 2012

So freakishly awesome

   I like learning new expressions, and I had barely arrived in Glacier National Park when I heard a young girl who had just seen mountain goats declare to her dad that it was "so freakishly awesome!"
I had to agree, especially since the mountain goats were really close and not aggressive. The babies were super cute too. We ended up seeing many mammals including big horn sheep, bears, and moose. Fortunately we saw all those from a safe distance.
   As we spent more time in the park we had many more occasions to find things freakishly awesome. We soon abbreviated it to FA.
    You can still see a few glaciers in Glacier National Park—if you hurry. More importantly, the place was formed and carved by glaciers which made it the freakishly awesome place it is. I think it has the most densely packed scenery of anywhere in North America.
  Mr. Rududu spent his photographic efforts taking panoramas. (Several photos that were later "stitched" together on the computer using a program.) Taking the series of photos for the panoramas took a while, but not nearly as long as deciding which of many spectacular photos to keep once he got home.
I tended to take photos of the details, like this wonderful lichen...
or these colorful rocks. Both red and green argillite are found together in the park.
There were lots of wild flowers and butterflies to admire.
 It was our first trip to Glacier National Park and its Canadian neighbor, Waterton Lakes National Park. I'm already thinking about another one.

Nitty gritty:  One of the awesome things about Glacier National Park is that you can take the train there. The station in East Glacier is right across the street from Glacier Lodge. From Wisconsin or Chicago it is a bit more than 24 hours and that time can be spent looking at scenery, eating, or sleeping. It's a relaxing way to go.
  If you want to stay at one of the lodges in the park, making a reservation far in advance is important. Even as early as January, you might not get what you want for a July trip. In a rare spurt of planning ahead, I booked our trip 11 months in advance. Note to other procrastinators: when you book so early you can get whatever you want. I guess that's why people do it. Most of the campgrounds in Glacier are first come, first served and if you don't get there late in the day campsites should be available.
   I would give the lodges mixed reviews. Glacier Lodge is right across from the Amtrak station and the lodge has an amazing lobby and view from the dining room. Anyone can take advantage of those whether they are staying there or not. There are other motels nearby with shuttle service from the train. We loved eating at Luna Cafe, a 10 minute walk from the lodge. No view, but excellent food.
  We really liked the Rising Sun Motor Lodge for its combination of (relatively) reasonable price and fantastic location on the Going to the Sun road. However, I was very disappointed in our room at the Prince of Wales Hotel, especially considering its price. I wished I had booked a nearby hotel and just eaten at Prince of Wales to enjoy the truly world class view, the wonderful old lobby and the male staff wearing kilts.

Thursday, July 19, 2012

Temari theme: flax leaf stitch

I usually don't go on a spree of stitching multiple temari balls using the same stitch right after each other, but I just finished a series of four balls. They all used the flax leaf stitch. Maybe that's because I think it looks cool and refreshing and the weather has been anything but.
I learned how to do this stitch from Barbara Suess's fantastic new book Temari Techniques.
Next I stitched a ball that is my first original design. I filled a couple of areas with smaller versions of the flax leaf. Small flax leaves can be used to fill many different shapes and most of it is by eye without any measuring. That makes it very relaxing.
Finally, I did a couple of balls that were based on instructions in a book I have from Japan called Cosmo 4 (Atarashii Temari by Chiyoko Ozaki). This was the first time that I followed instructions from a book all in Japanese, using the diagrams. Being able to do so will open up all kinds of possibilities. Fortunately I had help from Barb's book to learn the flax stitch and the mitsubishi stitch, shown on the right.

Saturday, July 14, 2012

Libraries popping up everywhere

  A man named Todd Bol in the small town of Hudson in northern Wisconsin had a great idea in the fall of 2009—to put a small book exchange in his front yard to honor the memory of his mother. Since then, little free libraries have been spreading all over the U.S. and to several continents. There are many in Wisconsin, and an amazing concentration in my neighborhood on the near east side of Madison. We are quite literary—and it seems we like to share our love of books.
There is an organization to encourage the proliferation of these free libraries. Their web site has lots of information including building plans and suggestions. (Remember that libraries must keep out the rain and snow to protect their books.) Libraries can be registered and appear on a map so people in search of libraries can find them. I'm guessing that Madison with about 60 registered little libraries—and probably some freelance ones—is one of the country's leaders in this movement.
The other morning a friend and I took a few books with us and spent a pleasant hour cycling around our neighborhood looking for free libraries. We found ten. They are all cute and each unique. Many are made with recycled materials. I found some good books to trade for.
Most little libraries are in people's front yards but we also found one next to a community center, and a couple at businesses. Anyone who wants to found a little free library can do so.
Librarians everywhere, I salute you!

Monday, July 9, 2012

Hot but hungry

We just had a week of record high temperatures in Madison. (And no, I'm not used to this from living in Costa Rica because we live in the cool mountains there.) Our drought continues, but this week the temperatures have moderated a bit from unbearably hot to just plain hot. Even with grass and plants drying up, there were welcome signs of life. In a tree branch extending over Lake Monona, an Eastern Kingbird pair raised and fledged their chicks. Some mornings I managed to get out and check them before the heat got too much for me. There were three hungry chicks. Kingbirds are flycatchers and the parents brought a variety of damsel flies and other insects. Both parents were in constant attendance.
Since the nest was without any shade, sometimes one of the parent birds would sit over the chicks with wings slightly extended to provide shade.
 Then it was off to catch more insects.

Sunday, July 1, 2012

Awww! It's a rat.

Mr. Rududu just folded a really cute rat. OK, I will admit that even though I used to have a pet white rat, I don't think of rats as generally attractive. But this model, designed by the great French origami artist, Eric Joisel has tons of cute factor.
Even minor changes can change the rat's personality. Here I pressed on the rat's head to make him look meaner by changing the angle of the forehead by a very small amount.
I think that this rat's winsome appearance reflects Mr. Rududu's personality.
Monsieur Joisel died at the age of 53 of lung cancer. Tributes included a lengthy obituary in the New York Times which included instructions for folding his rat and it's interesting to see the many versions that people have folded. Most of his models were far more complex. Joisel's pieces were exhibited at the Louvre and he was featured in the 2009 documentary Between the Folds. Anyone with any interest in origami—or if you want to completely change your idea of what origami is—should visit his web site.
The knitty-gritty: This model was wet folded with a paper called Elephant Hide. 

Tuesday, June 26, 2012

Summer hot and cold

   Summer weather so far this year in Wisconsin seems to be normal, nice warm days alternating with short periods of very hot weather. (And no rain no matter what.) On a very hot day recently it was fun to see a pile of ice someone had dumped out on the sidewalk.
Looking hot rather than cool is this home painted scooter I spotted in front of the library. I saw the owner riding it later and he has a helmet painted to match. Love it.

Monday, June 18, 2012

A whole lot of nothing

  Of the many states I've bicycled in, Wisconsin is the best for abundance of paved secondary roads. Last week we went on a 20 mile (32km) ride in the countryside not far from Madison. In the first hour of riding, we were passed by a grand total of two tractors...and one car. Later the pace picked up and a car went passed us about every ten minutes.
These cattle seemed quite interested in us—when I stopped to take a photo, the few that were on the other side of the field ran over to be with the group. Perhaps they were happy to finally have someone go past.
In the last few years we have noticed a wonderful improvement in cycling in Wisconsin. Whereas farm dogs used to be a dangerous annoyance when they ran out and gave chase, lately we have not seen any dogs on the loose.

Sunday, June 10, 2012

Being festive

   In Costa Rica, we flee the neighborhood festival that is days and nights of over-amplified recorded music simultaneously booming over incredibly loud commentary on the bull riding. One memorable year it lasted 10 days, usually to midnight. Most of my tico neighbors join me in disliking the torture by sound that the festival brings us. Why don't they unite to do something about it? When I understand that, I will really understand Costa Rican culture.
   Contrast that to the Marquette Waterfront Festival that is very close to our Madison home. It's two days and it has amplified music too, but you can't actually feel the bass beat from inside our house. Music ends at the civilized hour of 8:30 and it's all live. True, there's lots of beer but there are lots of activities for kids too. Many of our neighbors have porch parties to share the music with friends. One of the coolest things about the festival is that most people walk or bike to get there. (Maybe that's because parking in our neighborhood is very challenging.) Here's just a portion of the bike parking.
   This year the highlight for me was the Portland-based  Marchfourth Marching Band. It's like no marching band I've ever seen before. It plays much more danceable music and the performers wear much more interesting costumes.
The stilt dancers were really tall. The crowd gets moving—and amazingly for Madison, many of the upraised arms are free of tattoos. Our beautiful lake and giant cottonwood trees make a wonderful setting for this joyful celebration.


Sunday, June 3, 2012

The shock of the large

   Many things are big in the U.S. Consider the size of this strawberry from California. The egg is the standard large egg. It's just this kind of thing that sends me into reverse culture shock as I readjust to being in the States.
I used to scorn large strawberries as being generally hard as rocks and devoid of flavor. It seems, however, that there has been a lot of progress in strawberries and this strawberry had quite a bit of flavor. It was slightly on the crunchy side which helped it make it's trip without damage.
Happily, we are now in the very brief local strawberry season in Wisconsin. This is one of the average-sized, locally grown strawberries I bought today with the same size egg. (To be fair, I should have probably photographed the largest berry in the box, but it wasn't much bigger.)
The flavor: extraordinary.

Monday, May 28, 2012

Cultural immersion

   Visiting a big U.S. city after months in tiny Monteverde, Costa Rica is both exciting and a bit overwhelming. On our trip back to Wisconsin this year, one of our stops was several days in Washington DC, where we gloried in the wealth of the various Smithsonian museums. The Smithsonian is the largest museum in the world; in fact it is really 19 separate museums, most on the Mall in DC. What better place to immerse oneself in culture and history? (Note to frugal travelers: while food and lodging in DC are pricey, all the Smithsonian museums are free.)
   In a few days, it is impossible to see all the museums or—depending on one's style—possibly impossible to see all of a single museum. We met someone who lives in the area and claims he is still working on a single floor of the Museum of American History. I prefer to dip and dabble and the lack of entrance fees encourages that. Our favorite museum on this visit was the relatively new National Museum of the American Indian. (It helps that their cafeteria is amazingly good, with inspiration from native foods.) The building itself is curvaceous and lovely inside and out. One exterior wall has a huge series of waterfalls.
Around it are planted native plants and trees, such as the Liriodendron, or Tulip tree that dropped these leaves. This is quite an exotic tree for a Wisconsinite.
  We spent a lot of time getting visually overstimulated at art museums. While we were looking at the Vermeers in the National Gallery of Art, some very important people came in. I have no idea who the VIP foreign couple was, but I couldn't help but notice that the small room got quite crowded with tall men trying to look casual. I guess they were bodyguards. Not the sort of thing one can snap a photo of but an interesting experience. The National Gallery has three Vermeers and a painting that is attributed to Vermeer. It's fun to examine compare that painting to the others and try to decide if it is a Vermeer or not.
  At the Hirshorn Museum, I loved Chromosaturation by Carlos Cruz-Diez. It is an installation of colored light tubes in a very white space that viewers are allowed to enter.
   Outside of the museums, we found this knit graffiti in the Dupont Circle neighborhood. Thanks to who ever installed this cheery bit of knit art. You can never go wrong with the rainbow sequence.
   It felt like an art installation but it wasn't: riding in an empty Metro car. Usually the cars were quite full. Suddenly we were in one that was completely empty other than us.
 The nitty-gritty: All Smithsonian Museums in DC are free. May is school trip season. Museums are less crowded on weekends but even on weekdays the art museums were fine. It's best to go to the most popular museums on the weekends. (We visited the Museum of American History on a Sunday and the popular simulation rides in the basement had no line at all.) The National Gallery of Art and the National Museum of the American Indian both have very good cafeterias. The Textile Museum near Dupont Circle isn't part of the Smithsonian and requests donations; it's a must see for fiber lovers.