Wednesday, September 23, 2009

The Bigger Picture:
A Magic Position

So let the people talk
It's Monday morning. Walk
Right past the fabulous mess we're in
It's gonna be a beautiful day
So do the bluebirds sing
As I take your hand
And you take my kiss
And I take the world
'Cause out of all the people I've known
The places I've been
The songs that I have sung
The wonders I've seen
Now that the dreams are all coming true
Who is the one that leads me on through

It's you
Who puts me in the magic position, darling now
You put me in the magic position
To live, to learn, to love in the major key

I started this blog to get comfortable with talking to people—whether friends, colleagues or clients—about my art and my creative process. And you know, writing these blogs, as long as they take, has been so helpful and so rewarding.

I'm not a superstar with a thousand page hits a day and I rarely get more than one or two comments (to those who leave them, I love you guys. I underestimated how much comments motivate me to keep writing.), but when I'm creating something—a painting, a display, a floral design, an interior, a garden, an event—it's easy to take for granted how sophisticated the process really is. I'm sure most artists|designers|writers|engineers|etc out there would agree: when your creative juices are really going, when you're in the zone, the flow, the moment, or whatever your idiom of choice happens to be, it doesn't really feel like it came from you, right? It just pops out, or happens, or feels like it came from God, the universe, the Great Pumpkin, or some other greater power outside of you. Like Archimedes in the bathtub, you just get|got it.

Yet, I’d start writing about a project, thinking, Let's bang this out and on to breakfast, I'm really busy today, and find myself, every time, hours later, in the midst of recalling the myriad necessary artistic decisions I’d been making from minute to minute, asking the same Universe that gave me this beautiful gift in the first place, “Does it matter? Does anyone really want to know?”

And then I go see Z-Trip at The Starlite and sweet and lovely Nina tells me how touched she was by my moose, and how reading that blog reminded her how much she loves interior design and inspired her to re-examine her own home with fresh eyes. And I’m having a conversation with Erin, who I love and adore, and whose work and work ethic, in rigor and originality, I’ve always thought far surpasses my own, and she tells my that my work on my blog (i.e. the writing and photographs) urges her to treat her own blog with a little more respect and effort. And I realise I’m just being unkind to myself, like many people are to themselves, and I stop that inner conversation and turn my thoughts to something that gives me joy: like being in my office and studio and working on our next project...

and Rama: the love of my life, the business behind my art, and the reason I can do what I do...

and building my business, ID Bohemia. (By the way, if you have a creative business, The Business of Being Creative, is an excellent blog to read.)

Thank you for reading.

Thursday, August 13, 2009

The Bigger Picture:
Everyday Courage
and Swooning Over style/SWOON

I read a lot of blogs, and while I don't usually check the comments, sometimes it's worth it.

"It always occurs to me that some people can pull things off by being brave and cool about it. I mean, if I saw {insert random weird object here}, I would probably think it’s way too weird and people would freak out seeing it hanging in the middle of my living room. But then somebody else does that and it seems to everyone like it’s the most natural thing in the world…"

I was getting dressed to go out for lunch today, and wondering if my chosen duo of prints, coupled with a peacock-feather trimmed bowler, would be too weird. And yet, as I was standing in front of the mirror, I couldn't help but smile and mouth to myself, "Yup. I like this."

I think of my sister who, after my asking her if my outfit was too much, once said, "Do you want to be afraid or do you want to be remembered?" And while I try to dress, first, for myself and I don't much care if other people remember me, it still feels nice to get a compliment (of which I got many that day) and I personally remember all the days I chose to be brave and bold and courageous—both in my dress and in my actions.

Have courage, my dears, in all that you do. Be the best and the boldest. You'll never regret it.
And while you're at it, check out two of a kind over at my new obsession: style/SWOON.

Tuesday, July 28, 2009

That'll do, ID Bohemia. That'll do.

Here are some pictures of our work for Snowflake Gala 2008, the Stollery Children's Hospital Foundation's annual black-tie fundraiser. Our objective was to design and build sets that would entice guests into bidding on Feature Auction packages, donated to the Foundation by various companies from as near as downtown Edmonton, and as far as Orlando, Florida.

The theme colours for 2008 were bright red, yellow, blue and green, introduced by a charming invitation "storybook", featuring teddy bears (the SCH mascot is a teddy bear) doing snowy-related activities like tobogganing and ice skating. The Foundation wanted to return Snowflake Gala to it's kid-focused roots for 2008, as it was felt previous galas were moving too much towards the adult and sophisticated. At the same time, they wished to strike a balance between the children who are the focus of the Stollery Children's Hospital and the Foundation, and their parents whose ticket purchases and auction bids support the biggest fundraising event in Edmonton, also one of the largest of its kind in North America.

For the Feature Auction, ID Bohemia built on the storybook theme by creating a grown-up storybook. Each display included a custom-built or printed backdrop—framed in the year's theme colours—forming a "page". This page was then fleshed out with props begged, borrowed and donated from generous friends, family and businesses.

The final eight packages for the Feature Auction were:

1 - A Family Trip to Jasper National Park, with: accommodations at Tonquin Inn or Maligne Lodge, passes to the Miette Hot Springs, guided white water rafting, horseback riding, a trip to the Columbia Ice Fields, a round of golf at the Fairmont Jasper Park Lodge, lift tickets on the Jasper Tramway, and lease of a Mercedes Benz (SLK 350).

Image courtesy of Klyment Tan

Image courtesy of Klyment Tan

We sought to capture the wilderness of the Canadian Rockies with vintage framed prints and paintings of lake and mountain scenes (regular readers of this blog may recognise the elk), including several paintings donated by Amanda Pura and Marlon Doidge, whose children have been patients of the Stollery Children's Hospital (a lovely example of how full-circle life can be).

2 - A Guided Salmon Fishing Trip, with: flights to Campbell River, BC, and accommodations and a salmon fishing trip for 2 at the Silver King Lodge.

Image courtesy of Klyment Tan

Image courtesy of Klyment Tan

Image courtesy of Klyment Tan

Image courtesy of Klyment Tan

One of our most successful displays, a large scale model of a de Havilland Beaver on floats, with an astonishing wingspan of 129" (over 10'!), floated over fifty watery-eyed Chinook salmon, themselves racing across the Pacific Ocean, as depicted in a massive treasure map complete with an "X" marking the location of the Silver King Lodge...and sea monsters! John James designed the map around an antique image we'd found of Vancouver Island (if you'd seen what we gave her was soup from a stone, I tell you). It was printed by Klyment Tan at PrintHuge.

The de Havilland Beaver is a bush plane developed by de Havilland Canada and known in flying circles as an extraordinarily dependable workhorse.
Despite the fact that production ceased in 1967, hundreds of Beavers are still flying—many of them heavily modified to adapt to changes in technology and needs.

Even today, demand for Beavers continues so strongly that companies have taken to fishing downed Beavers from lake beds and muskeg and rebuilding them!

3 - A Wine Tour with Private Jet, including tastings and tours at Kettle Valley Winery, Hillside Estate Winery, Lake Breeze Vineyards, Red Rooster Winery and Township 7 Vineyards and Winery.

Image courtesy of Klyment Tan

Considering how involved and well put-together this package was, admittedly, this display wasn't as strong as it could have been
(the package wasn't confirmed until quite late in the design process). Still, thanks to a wealth of wine crates, a bit of creative finagling with grapes, and my crew's talented set-dressing skills, it worked out quite well.

Those guests paying careful attention would have noticed that the wines in the display came from two of the vineyards included in the trip. I always wonder if anyone notices these things besides the creator (in this case, us), and I always hope that small details like that work, at least, on a subconscious level towards the overall impact of a design/creation/whathaveyou. God is in the details, as they say.

4 - A Trip to Hawaii, including: flights to Oahu, Hawaii, and accommodations at Makaha Resort and Golf Club.

Image courtesy of Klyment Tan

Image courtesy of Klyment Tan

Image courtesy of Klyment Tan

Who better sing you to Hawaii than a ukelele cover band!

I first heard The Be Arthurs (now The B'Arthurs?) on CJSR several years ago, doing a cover of Justin Timberlake's Cry Me A River. (Click here to see more videos of them on their YouTube Channel.)

The Be Arthurs were set up on an artificial putting green lent to us by Evergreen Turf, and their performance, by the way, was superbly awesome.

The flowers in the background are known either as plumeria or frangipani, found on a stock photography site, and printed by PrintHuge. Though not native, plumeria grow abundantly in Hawaii and are often used in making leis.

5 - An Event Design Package, courtesy of ID Bohemia.

Goodkey Show Services provided us with red velvet stanchions and a red carpet, intended to convey an atmosphere of luxury. We kept noticing groups of people gathering on the carpet to chat. At the end of the carpet, we placed the image we used in our wedding invitation, an ambitious set design depicting a young writer obsessing over his muse, and a portfolio of our event work that I created especially for Snowflake Gala.

6 - A Trip for 4 to Orlando, Florida, including: flights, accommodations at the Marriott Orlando World Center Resort, passes to the Kennedy Space Centre, passes to Walt Disney World (3 days x 4 people), tickets to Skyventure Orlando Indoor Skydiving Experience (including Training, rental gear, 2 skydives, DVD Flight Recording and Photos), and park passes to Universal Studios and Islands of Adventure.

Image courtesy of Klyment Tan

Fifty pink flamingos (the original, and best, Don Featherstone design) lolled about a crisp, blue lagoon reminiscent of Florida's iconic Everglades National Park, sporting handmade flamingo-scaled Mickey Mouse hats. On the LCD flatscreen, they watched looped video of space shuttle launches from Cape Canaveral.

The vintage film reels, implying Universal Studios, were lent to us by our very good friend Scott McPherson, a writer, producer and Principles Trainer, with a long and successful career in television and film.

7 - An Evening in Bangkok for 6 couples, featuring: manicure and pedicure treatments at Pure Elements Hair and Body for the women, and Thai cooking lessons from Chef Elaine Wilson of Allium Foodworks for the men, after which the women return from their spa session to enjoy dinner and wine with their men.

The golden elephant probably gained us the most "cred" from our fellow set designers, themselves working in other areas of Snowflake Gala. Crafted from carefully crumped cardboard by Aaron and I over three full days, it measures 5' tall and 4' across from ear to ear. Lorn put together an appealing display using bamboo trunks imported from Thailand, and traditional Thai cooking ingredients like ginger, lime and chilies.

8 - An Escape to Bear Mountain, including: a stay at The Westin Bear Mountain Golf Resort & Spa, Victoria and 6-month lease of a 2009 Mercedes Benz SLK 350 Roadster.

I'm not normally a car person, but this Mercedes-Benz Roadster was pretty darned sexy. In the driver's seat sits the Stollery mascot surrounded by teddy-"chicks" from Bearyland, the Stollery Children's Hospital Foundation toy and gift shop located on the main level of the University Hospital. For the background, I drew a Dr. Seuss-inspired windy mountain road on wood-patterned paper.

This was a very interesting project to work on, in part because the parameters of the project continued to change quite significantly (due to the size and nature of the donated auction items) right up until it's installation in Halls A, B and C of Edmonton's Shaw Conference Centre , and also because the contents of each package were so richly varied.

The displays were very well received by the guests of Snowflake Gala 2008, as well as the staff and volunteers. Everyone said they were incredibly creative and artistic—a huge step up from previous years—and very representative of the Feature Auction packages.

Thanks to Klyment Tan for printing the backdrops and taking a few photos of the event for us, Al Schmidt for lending us his de Havilland Beaver, the people at Sobeys Urban Fresh on Jasper and 104 for the grapes, Bin 104 for digging up all those wine crates, Angus at Polly Magoo's Ltée. for lending us exotic props, Scott McPherson for his film reels (and for not losing it when they were, um, temporarily misplaced by the tear-down crew), Aaron's co-worker at ServiceMaster, Rick, for his leather saddles, Suzanne Chivers and Amanda Pura and Marlon Doidge and their children Jessica Trathen, Cody Pura and Sarah Doidge for donating paintings, Gary Selanders of Evergreen Turf for lending us real artificial turf, Goodkey Show Services for the red carpet, stanchions and black curtain wall (and for correcting my set-up foibles), Showtech for lighting, and the Shaw Conference Centre for the use of their A/V equipment.

Thank you especially to Rob Stewart, Grant Miller, and ServiceMaster of Edmonton for so generously donating the funds to carry through this project for the Stollery, The Be Arthurs for performing that evening (I sincerely hope it leads to some gigs), Lorn Iseke, James Carignan, Jessica Palsitt and the many volunteers for your way too many hours in setting it all up, and the staff of the Stollery Children's Hospital Foundation for staying at the Shaw Conference Centre until the wee morning hours so that Aaron and I didn't have to be there for tear down at 1am after several very long days and for your general cheerings-on.

Really, it's all the people who took the time and effort to donate supplies, money or their "off" hours for these displays, and indeed the entire gala production, that ensured that as much of the fund-raised money as possible went towards the Stollery Children's Hospital and its patients. Bravo!

Monday, July 27, 2009

Inspirations and Diversions:
I can see,
but for a moment,
I understand

Listen to BT's This Binary Universe...

1 - All That Makes Us Human Continues

2 - Dynamic Symmetry

3 - The Internal Locus

4 - 1.618

5 - See You On The Other Side

6 - The Antikythera Mechanism

7 - Good Morning Kaia

P.S. If you can find it, listen to Perfect Stranger - Ode ao sol (Eithan/Eitan Reiter remix). In the meantime, here's the original:

Thursday, July 16, 2009

It's up to me, Part D-I-NY:
New York
(drinking and friendly)

The following day, we rolled out of the hotel sometime around 2pm, headed down to Lexington and, not having a particular destination in mind, picked a direction and started walking.

Here is a grouped arrangement of lilies with Carex leaves wrapped around the vase, seen through the windows of the W New York – Union Square – I liked that the outside of the vase was utilised as effectively as the inside.

We walked by that hotel several times over the seven days we stayed in New York and it was lovely to see the character of the arrangements evolve as the lilies came into full bloom from these tight buds, changing from tone-on-tone greens to a vibrant contrast of green and orange-red.

After wandering around the East Village and a couple fantastic bowls of ramen (just like Tokyo!) at Rai Rai Ken, we found ourselves at Ryan’s Irish Pub, drawn in by Postal Service wafting out the door. A good choice for a chill evening on our second day in the Big Apple.

Our very charming Irish bartender (complete with an equally charming Irish accent) took this picture. I wish I could remember his name – he was so awesome – but I'd had too many pints of Guinness and chocolate martinis. Which brings me two another highlight of our trip: how friendly the people are in New York. Aaron and I were sitting at the bar, enjoying our pint and cocktail respectively, when a random guy walked in off the street and sat down next to us at the end of the bar. He ordered a drink, and then just-like-that POOF! started a conversation.

Arthur, with curly hair and glasses, talked about how he grew up in New York in a wealthy family—his dad had something to do with investing or banking or investment banking—and was working as a concierge in a hotel. We told him about Edmonton and how my sister gave us this trip as a gift. We showed him a vintage pillbox hat with french net that we’d bought for her at St. George’s Thrift Shop in Gramercy (she makes couture hats, and french net (i.e. net with large squares) is surprisingly hard to find), and we talked about our event design business.

I’d like to think it’s because we’re so cool that we settled into conversation with our bartender too, learning that he’d been in New York for two years or so, with an apartment in Manhattan his first year and over a thousand per month in rent, killing himself working to live, before finally conceding to the powers that be and moving to Queens. Or was it Brooklyn? ...I may have been three chocolate martinis in at this point. (Aaron told me later that our bartender liked us so much, he’d started comp-ing our drinks. And, oh, were those martinis tasty.)

A couple hours later, I leaned into Aaron and hissed that we had to go—I was worried I might be sick—but he was having such a good time that he tried to ignore me. I got brushed off by my bemused husband 3 or 4 times before I decided to take matters into my own hands, picking up our bag with the hat off the bar, and walking out the door. Once outside, though, I felt better and lit up a cigarette thinking I'd go back in after a moment, but then Aaron stumbled out about a minute later asking why I didn’t say goodbye. We wobbled our way back to the hotel, me in heels and hanging onto Aaron like the pope to a bible, laughing and shouting, “Whoo! I love New York! I’m in New York! Drunk! Whoo! New York! Drunk!” etc…the entire way.

The next morning, after many loving nuzzles over my Marge Simpson laugh, Aaron told me how he waved goodbye to Arthur and our bartender, running after me like a six-year-old called home to dinner, and everyone hopeful we'd be back.

It's up to me, Part D-I-NY:
New York
(the Metropolitan Opera)

The Metropolitan Opera House
Photo: Caroline Digonis/Metropolitan Opera

The Metropolitan Opera House is a stunning building within the larger complex of the Lincoln Center for the Performing Arts (or simply Lincoln Center). Aaron and I would’ve taken a photo ourselves, but there must have been several perfomances happening in Lincoln Center that night because it was very crowded and impossible to get a good picture. Flanking the lobby are two massive paintings by Marc Chagall, titled The Triumph of Music and The Sources of music, commissioned for the Center when it was newly built, and each measuring 30’ x 36’.

A portion of the ceiling in the lobby is gold leafed, lending a very rich effect, further to the red velvet walls. I admit there was some wall rubbing, bordering on frottage, happening.

We would’ve liked to take a few pictures of the auditorium, but that was promptly forbidden by the ushers. You’ll just have to click here instead.

I brought the fiery crinoline I wore at our wedding, to wear with a purple and red silk scarf that I fashioned into a top with pins. Aaron’s loving comments on how beautiful I was, and that people were staring at me from all around the lobby deflected my attention from a rumbly stomach and the lone brownie I’d had during intermission. I love him. He always knows what to say.

“Cavalleria Rusticana” at the Metropolitan Opera, as seen in the New York Times.

In retrospect, Cav/Pag was definitely one of the highlights of our trip. Lush costumes and sets easily satisfied our voracious event designer eyes. I’d love to go back to New York in 2012 and see Lepage’s new production of Wagner’s Ring cycle.)

It's up to me, Part D-I-NY:
New York

I'd been putting this post off because after Aaron and I got back from New York so many people were asking us about New York that I didn't want to recap New York any more, much less write about New York (though I’m happy our friends and family are interested in the things I'm/we're up to). But I was looking through some of our travel photos yesterday and thought it would be nice to write about it now. See if you can infer the relationship between Renée Fleming singing with muppets and (what will be) this series of New York posts.


One thing I did before we even boarded the plane, and which I plan to do for every major trip we take from now on, was look up and purchase tickets for local events or shows. While I’d never thought to do that before, I really can't emphasise enough how satisfying it was to step off the plane and arrive at our hotel knowing our trip already had some structure – that we had something to do. Yes, you might say, "What?! It's New York! There are a bajillion things to do!" And you would be right. But at the same time, for me, arriving in any new city at all tends to bring on a wide-eyed, lost and confused feeling just like I get at Home Depot when I stop in quickly to get something specific, and immediately forget what I wanted upon entering the building because there's just so much damn stuff in there (somewhat similar to the feeling I get at the grocery store, when I run in to get the 3 things I knew I needed when I was at home and can no longer remember once I'm standing at the door). We were due to arrive in New York for Thursday, April 2nd at 11am, so I booked tickets to the double-bill Cavalleria Rusticana/Pagliacci at the Metropolitan Opera for 8pm later that day, and then the Broadway musical South Pacific for the following Tuesday before we were to return home (or so I thought) the next Thursday.

Above is an arrangement of manzanita branches in a “boxer planter” by Westplant Green Facility. I think it was part of a green design display in Toronto’s Pearson airport. I use a camera as a visual notebook, so it tends to get filled up with pictures of random things that appeal to me for some reason or another. I think at the time I took this picture, I'd been considering using manzanita branches for a wedding I was doing.

I’d laid out all the places we wanted to visit in Google Maps to see where the best area for a hotel would be, and decided on the Hotel Deauville off Lexington, in Murray Hill. (Check out the reviews on Trip Advisor here.) The rooms were tiny and sometimes I’d catch a funny smell coming from the bathroom, but it was cheap and otherwise clean and very close to everything we knew we wanted to see and do. If we ever went to New York again, I’d probably stay there.

I want to say we hit the town right after dropping off our luggage at the hotel, but I’d be lying. We’d taken the near red-eye, with a two-hour layover in Toronto, so our heads were on the pillows once our bags hit the floor. Waking up just in time for dinner, we wandered around Gramercy looking for sustenance and ABC Carpet & Home (a New York must if you work in interiors and design) – it was too late to peruse the aisles or whatever-the-hey they had there, but at least we’d know where it was and could come back again later.

These are some of the window displays in ABC Carpet & Home, including displays for their Gary Graham in-store boutique (click News & Events on his page to see more pictures and read an article on the boutique).

I loved the ball-and claw foot mannequin so much, I bought similar legs on eBay and am making a mannequin of my own, except with a taxidermy pike head (similar to this one) and an Elizabethan ruff.

We didn’t have much time to look around that day, but we ended up returning three or four times over our seven days in New York to fully explore the six-floor, two-building, Chintz-on-steroids home extravaganza that is ABC. (Susan, the GM for Edmonton’s Chintz & Co., told me Chintz was modeled on ABC before Aaron and I left to come to New York, and I could see the resemblance. It's interesting to me that even a store like Chintz & Co., with four locations across western Canada has a role model.) At first, we didn’t realise how big the store was because we couldn’t find any elevators or escalators, just a mezzanine and a basement level, but we figured it out on subsequent visits.

I took a couple photos of antique zinc-topped tables from France, thinking I might make one out of the nasty faux-granite spray-painted round table (it came with the house) in our kitchen. I’d been thinking about how to attach sheet metal to a tabletop and keep it looking tidy, but seeing these tables being sold in an expensive retail store with the zinc just nailed down has given me the impetus to throw caution to the wind. I’ll likely use galvanized steel instead of zinc. It’s more readily available here. (I wonder why zinc is used so much for tabletops and counters in France, anyway…)

There was a bakery, Le Pain Quotidien (translation: Daily Bread), next door to ABC so Aaron and I sat down to have dinner. I regret not taking more pictures of its interior because it was so simply, yet elegantly, decorated – raw wood floors, rough brick or plaster walls, simple steel pendant lights, and minimal decoration (i.e. art or sculpture) save for a grouping of rusty tractor seats. Most of the seating was communal, with everyone at long, unfinished wood, harvest-style tables. The bread itself was the feature, beautifully presented behind a long counter, in baskets and on wooden racks. Even the drink menu was held in place on the table in a slot cut into a dry hunk of bread! Very nicely done.

Aaron had a smoked chicken and mozzarella sandwish and mint lemonade, and I had a grilled chicken cobb salad and apple juice. I’d never had a cobb salad until this trip, but I think it’s my new favourite salad. (Click here for a recipe (or 8).)

Here is Aaron talking to Visa about the problems we continue to have with our credit cards while travelling.

Isn’t he handsome in his tweed jacket? He got it in an Irish clothing shoppe in Niagara-on-the-Lake when we went to Toronto to visit the lovelies Erin, Daniel and Emily.

Ahh. Pleasantly sated, we were now ready to tackle all that New York had to offer.

Tuesday, June 23, 2009

Workin' it 9 to 5, Part III:
The Blanket Truth

I love hip hop. There are many genres of music out there that I like, but sometimes I just wanna bump up on my Rama, and only a hip hop beat will do it for me. Did you know that when lyrics are recorded backwards in a song there's have a name for it? It's called backmasking! Reminds of a passage I was reading just yesterday, in Anne Lamott's "Bird by Bird", on how the author finally came to know that the "wire thing" that covers all champagne corks is called the "wire hood". (Part Three: HELP ALONG THE WAY - Calling Around, p. 145)

On the process of writing and research, she wrote that part of being a writer is a willingness to go where that process wanders and flows, pushing or pulling you along with it all the while.
The truth is that there are simply going to be times when you can't go forward in your work until you find out something about the place you grew up, when it was still a railroad town, or what the early stages of shingles are like, or what your character would actually experience the first week of beauty school. So figure out who would have this information and give that person a call. It's best if you can think of someone who's witty and articulate, so you can steal all of his or her material. Also, of course, it's just more interesting to be on the phone with someone who's sort of keen. But these qualities are not absolutely necessary, because you may just be looking for one piece of information, or even just one word, and you do not need a whole lot of background or humor to go with it. And it may also turn out that in searching for this one bit of information, something else will turn up that you absolutely could not have know would be out there waiting for you.
For Anne, it's wine hoods. For me, it's backmasking. And, like Anne, I never might've thought I'd actually be able to use that little tidbit of information, until just now. Backmasking...ah.

The more permutations of the creative process I explore and encounter, whether design, writing, painting, drawing, photography, music, sewing, jewellery, gardening, et al, etc...the more I see they're all the same and my creative world grows ever wider and more expansive. It makes me wonder: is it like that in life too? Maybe this is what Scott is talking about when he says, "It's all the octopus." Maybe this is what Bernard meant when he said, "It's all the blanket."

In closing,

Good karma to you all.

Workin' it 9 to 5, Part II:
My messy desk

Above me, wind does its best
to blow leaves off
the aspen tree a month too soon.
No use wind. All you succeed
in doing is making music, the noise
of failure growing beautiful.

- Bill Holm, "August in Waterton, Alberta"

The client that I fired came over yesterday to pick up the materials I bought that she'd still like to use. It's nice to have closure to that project finally.

After I let her wedding go, I felt a profound sense of loss. Loss for all the time spent on a project that I wouldn't be seeing to fruition, and for all the time spent on that project that could've been spent in the studio, or writing, or on any other creative project significantly less stressful and infinitely more satisfying. Hundreds of hours, amounting to a lesson learned. And though I told myself that knowing when to quit is a valuable skill, I still found myself angry and frustrated in front of the paint cans at Home Depot and on the phone to my friend Scott (several times). Thanks, Rama and Scott, for being there.

I suppose there was something in me, that I've lived with for so long I couldn't have known I learned it somewhere, that equated giving up or letting go to failure. And who knows? Maybe that's true. And yet now, now that it's over and all the loose ends are tied up, I feel relieved and free. And at peace.

How things change.

Workin' it 9 to 5, Part I:
OXO lessons

I received my new peeler in the mail today! Everything was perfect, right down to the red felt in Rachel's note and the textured ink on the OXO stationery.

But I was already a fan of OXO before this all started, so while any gift is a wonderful thing to receive in the mail, what this little adventure has shown me is the importance of branding and the impact that the customer experience has on the success of a company.

Tuesday, June 16, 2009

The Rise,
The Fall
and The Neverending Story:
A musical and philosophical
exploration in three parts

I wrote OXO last night, when the stifling air per a storm-that-never-came begat a thirst for nostalgia and cantaloupe.
Dear good people at Oxo,

I first fell in love with you over your Oxo Steel Swivel Peeler, which I bought over 5 years ago when I first moved out on my own and suddenly needed kitchen implements.

I admit, 5 years later, the blade isn't as sharp as it used to be and though I haven't had a lot of luck finding replacement blades up here in Canada, I can't bring myself to throw it away and buy a new one. Something about it's firm yet squishy utility begs me to hold onto it just a little longer.

I also own a Steel can opener, whisk, ice cream scoop and lemon zester. I love them all, though perhaps the lemon zester just a little less. My weak wrists necessitate me keeping a death grip on my lemon with my left hand, while my right hand forms a fist around the zester's handle, usually with my thumb up near the zesting part for guidance. Perhaps if you rotated the zesting part a quarter turn it would work better? Or maybe it would just work better for me.

The whisk is the best whisk I've ever used, bar none, and I've worked in several commercial kitchens. Holding it in my hand, I can't believe no one had thought of it's design before you geniuses (no exaggeration). And while its turgid profile does lend itself to many a dirty kitchen joke from my dinner guests, well, that just adds to the joy of using it.

Accolades aside, I'm writing this e-mail to you as a child of Filipino immigrant parents longing for a taste of the old country in a hot Canadian summer.

When I was child living with my parents, my mom would sometimes make me a drink with shredded cantaloupe, milk or water and a bit of sugar. Very simple and wonderfully refreshing. Mom used a tool she brought here from the Philippines and available at some Filipino markets, like the one on the left in the top picture of this page.

Melon shredder, Market Manila

While it worked well enough for it's purpose, I couldn't help noticing how she had to periodically adjust and readjust the loops, which would be pushed out of alignment by the force of drawing them against firm cantaloupe flesh. Now, thinking about your wonderful zester (and my mom's developing arthritis): would you consider making a bigger version? Perhaps with 3/8" sized holes?

Though I didn't think it possible, I just might love you even more than I did before.

My thanks,

They wrote me back! I got an e-mail from Rachel Cooper, a marketing assistant for OXO today.
Hi Christina,

Thank you so much for your wonderful feedback on all your OXO products! We design our products with the consumer’s needs in mind, and are always happy to hear when we have hit the mark. We are glad that you are enjoying all of our tools, and putting them to good use in the kitchen.

Understandably, the blades of your Peeler will dull over time and therefore will not work as well as when you first bought it. We’re sorry that you were unable to find a Replacement Blade, but have no fear- as all our products have a lifetime Satisfaction Guarantee. We would love to send you a new SteeL Swivel Peeler, free of charge. Just let me know if you would like me to use the address provided as the shipping address.

We always appreciate suggestions for products from consumers, and take all your comments into consideration. I am forwarding your email (and the link) to our Product Managers to take a look at and consider. Please let us know if you have any further questions or suggestions for our products. We appreciate all your positive feedback and support and are happy to be a part of your kitchen.

Rachel Cooper
Marketing Assistant

I send out these sorts of e-mails from time to time, but I never expect anyone to write me back. I tend to assume large corporations with worldwide distribution, like OXO, don't actually have time for that sort of thing. Well, Rachel, thanks for proving me wrong. And now I get a free swivel peeler! I'll add it to our collection.

(That's the swivel peeler in the middle. edit: Missing is the spatula, pardon...turner that I found hiding in the dish drainer later this evening.)

I had the biggest, silliest grin on my face and was looking for music to play as I wrote this blog when I glanced out the door to the balcony and noticed a police van pulling up to a house across the alley. We live very close to downtown, so I figured maybe someone had "fallen asleep" behind someone's garage. Instead, they walked over to a van that's been parked in one of the driveways, knocked on the windows and spoke at length with the woman who came out from inside.

(Cue Beethoven's 7th Symphony, 2nd Movement - allegretto.)

Trailer for The Fall.

For the last few months, a couple has been living out of a pale yellow van, parked in the driveway of a house across the alley. At times we wanted to call the police, but we figured everyone has to live somewhere, and as long as they weren't scattering our garbage everywhere, or drinking in our driveway (which is another story for another blog entry), well, who were we to judge them. Sometimes, when Aaron and I were gardening in the back yard late into the evening, we'd see the man and woman walking together through the alley and they'd say hello and we'd say hello and everyone would smile and it would be nice. We knew/know nothing about them or their lives or how they came to be in the place they were and, if anything, they probably needed our compassion. And a few cans.

But I can't quite express the relief I felt seeing that van pull out of the driveway this afternoon, and how different the alley feels not having a rusted old van, with bed sheets, clothes and towels lain atop its roof and across its hood, parked in one of the driveways. As much as my heart feels compassion for people in difficult circumstances, it also feels a nearly intolerable frustration at seeing the heaps of food containers, clothes, rags, and general near-domestic detritus that van barfed all over that driveway.

Wherever they are, I sincerely hope their circumstances work out for the better. Maybe someday, with a bit more life experience, I can offer them something more than a smile and hello.

Thankfully, Aaron and I had an excellent evening together. When he came home from work, we went out for a bike ride, and then we took care of some errands before an evening of snuggling and a few episodes of Battlestar Galactica. Overall, this day has been really quite wonderful.

Ah, the never ending human drama. I'll leave you with this video of Architecture in Helsinki's "Do the whirlwind".

Monday, June 15, 2009

Memoir: I think I'm in love
and it makes me kinda nervous
to say so

I love utility. And I especially love the rusty and decrepit kind of utility in these old industrial objects at Urban Remains Chicago. My God, let me build a house with this stuff and I'll ascend to heaven the day after it's complete.

I think it has something to do with my Dad being a pipefitter, and later an electrician, as I was growing up. Periodically, we'd all go see him in his workshop and there was something so wonderful and mysterious about all the tools I couldn't figure out a use for, shiny metal screwnutbolt things, coloured wires, and well worn, if dusty, workbenches, stools and chairs.

He has an old oak office chair, very much like this one but with four legs, languishing in his garage, covered in paint spots and dirt, that he rescued from one of the places he worked for before it shut down. I lust for it. Years and years ago, when we had a garage sale, the first person to walk up the driveway poked around the garage for a few minutes and offered Dad $200 for the chair. And he said no (!), and that it wasn't for sale. Dad wasn't the happiest person, growing up, but he seemed to take a special joy in his work and in personal achievement. Perhaps that chair has meaning for him.

More than anyone I've ever known, Dad taught me to see beauty in the usefulness of something, which I suppose is why I'm so attracted to barns, workshops, warehouses, tools, metals, wood and glass. While Mom gave me an appreciation for style and flash, Dad made sure it was grounded in function and craftsmanship.

Aaron's respect for the balance between utility and aesthetics is one thing that really really really attracted me to him. And like me, he learned those concepts from his parents. Though, unlike me, he learned them on their land in the forest in Peace River.

I'm reminded of this quote from William Morris,
“Have nothing in your house that you do not know to be useful, or believe to be beautiful.”
The more I think about these things the more I understand: all these objects I lust after...all these projects I do...they're always about creating my happy-er place.

What's your happy place?

Blue walls smiling at me.
Nothing but blue walls
do I see.

Ah! I love my office. And now, after a long absence from writing, I have returned, stronger, faster, more comfortable and more beautiful than ever.

I fired a client for the first time last week. And you know, I am so happy to have gone through the experience. I know myself better, and I learned to say "no". It's an important skill to learn. Period.

So...a little catch-up.

I moved my "office" from my kitchen to a former bedroom, and now instead of hunching in a chair that's too tall over a keyboard that's too short, I have my very comfortable vintage black David Rowland 40/4 office chair (thanks Dad!), so named because you can stack 40 of them into 4 square feet of space, in which to lounge as I lay bare this lifestyle lexicon. Now, I have a balcony to retire to and a verdant back yard to look onto when the inspiration leaves me and I'm a little pile of tropical frustration. Now, I have more art on the walls. Ah!

The two paintings you see above were found at different times in different thrift stores. I bought the elk on the left, along with several other vintage landscape paintings, for a project Aaron and I did for the Stollery Children's Hospital Foundation. I love how it manages to be so kitsch and majestic and Canadiana all at once. I was considering giving it away to a fellow artist who asked to have the landscape paintings once we were finished with them, but it's just so je ne sais quoi for me that I couldn't let it go. Maybe it has something to do with my Dad. He loves elk, and I like hearing him say "Elk". One of those "through leaves" experiences, I guess (see footnote).

When I saw the moose on the right and recognised the matching frame, I was on that thing like kittens to a yarn ball. I was telling Aaron last night, after hanging the two pictures, that the moose reminded me of him and I said something along the lines of "a big, strong animal alone in the Canadian wilderness". (Laugh if you must, but it came out much cuter and more romantic at the time.) It's interesting to me how I'd choose to hang it next to the elk that reminds me of my Dad. My two big, strong animals...

I almost regret we will not be showing pictures of our home until it is done, including the office, as we are hiring a professional photographer with the intention of publishing it in Canadian House and Home, Elle Decor, Style at Home, or some other decorating magazine, and perhaps also a blog like Apartment Therapy or Design Sponge (check out this gorgeous sneak peak). When that happens, I'll let you know. Within a year or two.

In the works right now are a website for ID Bohemia, a show and sale featuring curated art from my art school days and jewelry I've been making, and a wedding in September.

Not too much more to write today, as nearly everything is in transition. I just wanted to say I'm working, and I'm in love with life."

In Easy Living, Terence Conran writes:

Vita Sackville-West, in a talk broadcast on BBC radio in 1950, identified a whole range of insignificant, essentially domestic pleasures that everyone has experienced from tie to time but hardly ever remarks upon. In the family shorthand, which gave the talk its title, these brief moments of satisfaction were collectively termed "through leaves", after the "small but intense pleasure of walking through dry leaves and kicking them up as you go." It was "through leaves" to run a stick along an iron railing or to crunch thin ice; to suddenly remember a word or name you thought you'd forgotten; or to write with the perfect pen nib. So was pulling curtains that ran freely on their rods, sliding out the drawer of a steel filing cabinet which opened "readily and silkily" on ball bearings, cutting pages of a book with a sharp paper cutter, or drawing a cork with a good corkscrew. Drinking when you're thirsty, feeling sand between your toes at the beach, reading in bed – that "perfect moment" that lasts only as long as you can stay awake – sinking into bouncy seats at the cinema...
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