Saturday, March 31, 2018

"Flowers or Vegetables?"--reasoning about gardening

 Some years back, I heard a fellow gardener say that she only grew flowers, never vegetables. "I can get all the vegetables I want at the farmer's market," she said, "so why waste garden space?"

Her reasoning caught my attention then, and I am still thinking about it even now . "Flowers or vegetables?" is an important question for a gardener.  Plenty of gardeners--maybe even the majority--grow both. But some gardeners are mainly interested in creating a beautiful landscape, while others think flowers are a waste of space since you can't eat them. (At least, not most of them, and not in a very sustaining way.)

I belong to the "both" school. I love flowers, but I can't imagine having a garden without growing some tomatoes, maybe some carrots, certainly basil and parsley. When I browse seed catalogs, I spend at least as much time contemplating the enormous range of possible lettuces, sizes of carrots, varied summer squash and of course tomatoes, as I do looking at photos of zinnias, violas, and sweet peas (so lovely and so unsuited to my climate.)

Why grow vegetables? As my fellow gardener pointed out, I do live in a town with a flourishing farmer's market. Most of the vegetables I grow (at least the ones I grow successfully), I could buy. They offer plenty of heirloom tomatoes, cute squash, leafy greens and so on. They sell beautiful green bouquets of basil. Most of their vegetables look better than mine, and I could pick and choose the ones I want.

I asked a similar question earlier about making homemade French bread. I can buy better French bread locally, so why make it? But I don't think the answer is the same in the two cases. With French bread, I make it in large part for the challenge of the thing. I don't grow vegetables for the challenge of it. In fact, I prefer vegetables that are easy to grow and don't require much fuss.

Do I grow my own vegetables so I can get them exactly the way I want, as in the case of making myself a pair of lightweight green corduroy pants with double pleats? Or the time I tried to manufacture a grocery bag that was washable and yet would stay open easily?

There is certainly an element of choice. When I grow my own vegetables, I can choose unusual varieties that aren't offered at the Farmer's Market. Getting to choose is certainly what keeps me browsing seed catalogs through the winter.

However, some of the varieties I grow are available at the Farmer's Market. Every year I plant a couple of Sungold tomatoes, even though I can buy the little orange globes by the pint. And while I've experimented with different kinds of basil, I've discovered that when I'm cooking I actually prefer plain, basic basil. As a result, that's mostly what I grow now.

For some of the vegetables, and especially for the herbs, it is helpful to be able to go out back and pick just what I need, when I need it. A few leaves of basil, some sprigs of parsley, just enough lettuce for a salad. In fact, I should probably keep this in mind when planning and give priority to plants that don't store well or are used in small quantities.

So why grow any other vegetables? 

The answer, I think, is that there is just something very appealing about growing some of my own food. It's the feeling of providing for myself--even if, in truth,  I've got hardly enough for one meal. It feels (ironically) deeply practical. This is probably the reason I keep planting fruit trees and bushes, even though the squirrels and birds make off with most of it. I could plant purely ornamental trees, but I like the thought of producing fruit in my own backyard. 

Hyacinths may feed the soul, but peach trees feed the stomach as well. (Or, given squirrel thievery, maybe just the imagination.)

Till next post.

Friday, March 16, 2018

More Acanthus Scrolls, plus Homemade Envelopes

When I was looking for techniques for drawing that interesting foliage-like scroll, I found two useful sites. I made use of one of them in my last post, to draw a decorative scroll on a tuckbox. This time I tried Calligraphy Pen’s technique to make an interesting envelope. In doing so, I also discovered that my cut-and-paste skills need work.

Homemade envelope with acanthus scroll decoration
The finished envelope

 The envelope template that I used is from The Postman's Knock. She offers a number of decorative printable envelopes, some for free. If you print them full size, they will hold a standard sheet of paper folded into quarters (important if you are making cards this way.) I traced around one and then started adding a scroll to the back flap of the envelope, and then started one that I wanted to go along the left-hand side of the envelope where it would not interfere with the readability of the stamp or zip code.

Here I have drawn a box lightly in pencil where I want the second scroll to go. You can see the one on the back flap already done.

Box penciled in

Here I have drawn the scroll in pencil.

Penciled-in scroll

Here I have gone over it in pen, and added some rather random shadows with a finer pen. If the art critiquer at SCBWI saw this, he would no doubt ask me where the heck my light source is supposed to be coming from. Oh well.

Inked-in scroll

Now that I’ve gone over it in pen, I have a sudden realization. This scroll is on the WRONG SIDE of the envelope. Oops. Rather than start over, I decide to cut and paste. Since my computer art skills are limited, I cut and paste in the original sense of the phrase, then use the photocopy function on my printer.

Envelope template with scrolls cut and pasted in

Unfortunately, I haven’t stuck the pieces down well enough and faint lines show where I have pasted. And it turns out there is not a single bottle of white-out in the house. I try white watercolor, and then I try running white gel pen over the faint lines on the photocopy.

Finally, I decide that this isn’t such a wonderful scroll anyway, and I may as well make an envelope out of the copy with faint lines. I’ll make a better scroll decoration some other day. Meanwhile, I have plenty of photocopies that I can color in different ways if I want.

Till next post.

Saturday, March 10, 2018

Acanthus Scrolls, Florentine Papers, and Decorated Tuckboxes

For the past couple of weeks, I have been fascinated by acanthus scroll designs. It started when I received some address labels that reminded me of the scroll-like design on a box of fancy stationery. I pulled the box out and started trying to imitate the design, without much success.

Box of stationery covered with Florentine paper with leafy scrollwork
Stationery box with Florentine paper cover
There is a tangle pattern (ZentangleTM) called “Icanthis”. It gets its name from the acanthus leaf, which shows up in stylized form all over the place. The design on the stationery box was a kind of leaf-like scroll, but not very much like the Icanthis tangle. So I turned to the internet. “Acanthus leaf”, “foliage scrolls”, “acanthus scroll”, and so on. There were all sorts of interesting images.

One thing I found out is that the paper I so admired is probably made by Rossi, a company in Florence, Italy. Such beautiful designs and colors! And of course, there are the accents in powdered gold—I think I may have said before that I like shiny things?

I also found tutorials on making two somewhat different types of acanthus scroll. One is a webpage on "Acanthus Drawing" by “Maitresse Yvianne". I had a lot of fun trying out the design. I made a card and a tuckbox (photos below), but I didn’t add the turned-up leaf tips. I’ll have to try that another time. The other was a post in a blog called "The Calligraphy Pen". This style makes a nice border.

While working on these, I drew acanthus scroll type designs all over the place, trying to find the ones I liked best.

Sheets of paper with sketches of acanthus scroll patterns
Acanthus scroll sketches

Eventually I decided to make some samples from the Yvianne tutorial, in part because it is a little easier. If you skip the turned-over leaf tips, you don’t even need pencil guidelines (though I used guidelines to get nice curves on the scroll.)

Pencil guidelines on card
Pencil guidelines

Acanthus scrolls inked over pencil guidelines on card
Drawn in ink

Acanthus scrolls on card colored with colored pencil
Colored with colored pencil

I didn’t really like the way the pencil coloring turned out. Maybe I should have used different colors, or just colored it more simply. So I decided to use watercolor for the next one and make a tuckbox (see Make Your Own Tuckbox).

Tuckbox paper pattern with pencil guidelines
Pencil guidelines on cut-out tuckbox

Tuckbox paper pattern with acanthus scrolls
Drawn in ink

Tuckbox paper pattern with acanthus scrolls and watercolor
Colored with watercolor.

Tuckbox with acanthus scroll design
The finished tuckbox.

Maybe I will use a gold gel pen on the next one and add some dots or squiggles. I like this design, but I left a lot of empty space. I think this style of scroll would look nice at the top of a letter, or maybe on a nameplate, but to turn it into decorative paper would require adding a lot of extra loops and flowers and details.

Of course, that could be fun, too.

Till next post.

Saturday, March 3, 2018

"For Instant Human, Add Coffee"--are we really that tired?

So, I’m looking at a paper napkin in a popular coffee shop and it has a picture of a mobile phone that says “Download the mobile app” and the words “Because at 7 a.m. you can barely tie your shoes, let alone count money.” I laugh at image it conjures up.

Wait, what?

Caribou Coffee paper napkin with joke about lack of sleep

Do we really live in a world where lack of sleep is so pervasive, so ordinary, that the thought of people trying foggily to count their change makes us laugh? If I were thinking straight, I would take this as a compelling reason never to drive anywhere near a coffee shop before 10 a.m., lest I run into these people (literally).

But of course, I'm not thinking straight. I’m here for the caffeine, too, albeit in the form of tea. And I already knew that we lived in this world—jokes about coffee and cranky grown-ups abound. You can find them on t-shirts, magnets, and, of course, coffee mugs.

How in the world did this become normal?

There are some people who are painfully aware of how precious sleep is—people with insomnia, or chronic pain, or perhaps a new baby. No doubt they would trade all the coffee in the world for a good night’s sleep. There are other people who can’t keep their eyes open past nine p.m. and who awaken in the morning… well, who awaken. As opposed to crawling out of bed still half-asleep. They probably wonder what the big deal is with morning coffee.

Back to the question—how did being tired become normal for so many people?

Electric lighting surely helped. It’s a lot easier to stay awake if you have bright lighting. (I was going to bring up slide shows and people falling asleep in the darkness, but does anyone do slide shows any more? I think Powerpoint “slides” might be a lot brighter than typical photo slides.)

Not only is it easier to stay awake, there’s a lot more you can do. You can easily read, play cards, make model planes, etc. That’s before we bring in television, then videos, then computer games and Netflix. Now you can be highly entertained twenty-four hours a day. If you do fall asleep, it won’t be from boredom.

Or you could work, if your work involves using computers, answering email, reading professional journals, or anything that doesn’t require you to be on site. You could try to catch up on the endless list of tasks.

Going to bed is boring. Reading or watching a movie is fun. Going to bed means putting yourself that much closer to having to get up again and go to work.Staying up playing a computer game squeezes in a couple of hours more enjoyment before the whole work cycle starts again. No one wants to let go of those precious evening hours.

The consequences are many and varied and have been written about at length (so I’ll be brief). Impaired driving. A tendency to road rage. Short tempers with family members and friends. Accidents, both major and minor. Foggy thinking, and all that follows.

I can tell I’m really tired when I hit myself opening cabinet doors and start dropping things. I snap at whoever is around. I am not a happy camper. Admittedly, I may deal with fatigue worse than some people, but the sneaky thing about being overtired is you can’t always tell how much you are affected, because your judgment is affected as well.

The point I’d like to make here is that this is not merely a health problem, or an inconvenience, but a moral problem as well. Even if you don’t endanger anyone by driving when tired, if lack of sleep leads you to bicker, yell, or fail to pay attention to your family when you should, then it is contributing to your behaving badly.

I have no solution to offer. Saying “Well, just put down the phone/turn off the TV/close the book and get to bed earlier” is like saying “Eat less sugar and starch, exercise at least a half hour daily, and drink enough water.” It’s true, but it doesn’t help us do it. By now, most people who aren’t getting enough sleep are probably well aware of the problem. We have reasons to change, but no urgency. Next week is soon enough for an attempt to change our bedtime. Or next month… And it’s hard to make any change that feels like a sacrifice (“But I don’t wanna go to bed yet!”)

Maybe the right routines would help. I know, for instance, that I shouldn’t start reading a new book after dinner, unless it is very short. It’s easier to avoid starting a book than it is to put the book down when I’m halfway through. Still, sometimes I just want to read.

Maybe we need some collective agreement, some kind of peer pressure? I don’t know. But the problem doesn’t seem to be going away.

Till next post.