Monday, February 27, 2012

a left-handed ukulele player

It hasn't surprised me that C can't keep his hands off the ukulele. He plays drums in his band, but has always been one of those kids who gravitates toward anything that makes sound. And let's face it, ukuleles are pretty irresistible.

But C is strongly left-handed. Unlike his brother and mom, both of whom write left but can usually manage other tasks conventionally, C is a true southpaw. Today we finally got him his own ukulele to restring left-handed. We chose the same model as the blukulele, the Makala Dolphin. It has a plastic body and costs only $40, but it's considered a decent instrument by those more qualified than me to judge such things. It's recommended that the stock strings be replaced right out of the box with Aquilas. To string left-handed, you string A-E-C-G (rather than G-C-E-A) from the dolphin's nose to tail.
I was in the process of laboriously drafting a left-handed chord chart when D came home and asked, "Can't you just find something online?" Haa-ahh...yes, of course you can, if you think to look. There's a nice one about halfway down the page here in downloadable .pdf format.

Now our left-handed ukulele player is set up and ready to play.

Monday, February 13, 2012

blukuleles in February (for Kay)

Today was Galentine's Day* and by happy coincidence, it was also our monthly Blukulele playalong. Food, music and laughter: is there any better way to celebrate?

*I was unable to find a succinct definition of Galentine's Day, so here's mine: it's a holiday invented by Leslie Knope which falls on February 13th and celebrates female friendship. Galentine's Day is a direct counterpoint to Valentine's Day and the idea that one needs a relationship to be happy. In at least two episodes, Leslie is seen at brunch with her mom and coworkers, handing out gifts and toasting with champagne. Leslie's description: "It's like the Lilith Fair, minus the frittatas."

Saturday, February 11, 2012


Does this look familiar? I bet it does to many of us. I am actually not that much of a reader, but would seem to be better at starting books than finishing them.

Which means that there is a high need for bookmarks in our house.

I love bookmarks almost as much as I love books. When the kids were small, we often made bookmarks specific to the books we were reading. It was a good activity for boys who couldn't sit still while listening, and it was a nice exercise in turning abstract words into something more concrete. I loved seeing their interpretations.

Some bookmarks are manufactured as such and given as gifts:
Some were made as advertising or promotion:
Some are cherished handcrafted items:
I am even known to use random scraps of paper to mark my reading place—do you do this, too?
I could tell you the story of each and every one of the above bookmarks, where they came from, when I got them, what their significance is. I mean it: I really love bookmarks, signifying as they do the optimism of continued learning and the promise that even if you are too tired tonight, you can pick up again tomorrow. Bookmarks save your place, just like a friend.

And bookmarks are on my mind right now because of a question Elizabeth posed on twitter a few months ago: what is an easy way for a non-crafter to begin crafting?

I've thought about this, and I believe the best way is to just make something you can use. At its most basic, crafting is simply the personalization of objects we keep around us. Whether you add a bit of color or whip it up from scratch, the functional property is what separates craft from art, isn't it?

So if you were to make a bookmark, how would you do it? Would you draw and color a strip of cardstock? Glue pieces of newspaper or glossy magazine together and brush with Mod Podge? Would you add a magnet to hold it in place? Fold origami? Stitch up some leftover fabric from a favorite shirt?

Try doing an image search for "handmade bookmark" and see if it doesn't inspire you. If you want to be particularly timely, type in "valentine bookmark." I think a bookmark is the ideal Valentine card—how about you?
English: The photographer's wedding ring and i...Image via Wikipedia

Thursday, February 9, 2012

Tuesday, February 7, 2012

hawaiian quilting

Some years ago I was visiting my grandma on Maui when she decided she would no longer be doing handwork. It had become too difficult to see up close to thread needles.

She passed me some fabric and also two unfinished pillows with Hawaiian quilting patterns on them. I don't think I can write well enough about the history of Hawaiian quilting to do it justice. Instead, I'll direct you here, where I'm sorry to discover that Poakalani Serrao, the woman who was probably the most prolific writer and teacher on the subject, has recently passed away.
I wish now that I had taken the time to iron them (but I guess I don't wish it enough to redo!). Grandma's pattern template sits in the lower left corner of each square so that you can see how the folding turns this little 45° wedge into the beautiful symmetry of the design. What is less clear from the photo is that the template was traced from her friend's copy onto a grocery bag; and that the cloth is a very coarse, but brightly dyed cotton. This is the fabric I always associated with Hawaii as a child. Now you can buy fine quilting cotton printed with orchids and other florals, but my memories of fabric shopping with my mom and grandma were all about these solids and a few simple prints in equally bold colors.

Grandma's pillows are both in the ulu (breadfruit) pattern. It seems to be the pattern that one sees the most, perhaps because it is fairly simple with nice curves or perhaps because, according to Poakalani, there is a tradition that once you make an ulu quilt you will never want for life's necessities. The ulu pattern is so strongly associated with Hawaii that it is even on a pair of earrings I bought when C was a baby.
My friend M has been making Hawaiian quilt squares recently and when she asked me to take a Hawaiian quilting class with her, I jumped. We went to the LQS last Sunday when everyone else was in Superbowl preparation mode.

The teacher likened it to cutting out paper snowflakes in school and sure enough, I had flashbacks of being in school: taking too long to decide on a pattern, talking too much, and suddenly realizing I was miles behind everyone else when we were supposed to be moving on. I came home with my piece only half-basted where the rest of the class was well into their needle turning. Oh well. My slowness is not really news.

Here is the design I'll be working on. The fabric choices are not traditional, since I was pulling from my stash the morning of the class. Can you guess what the pattern is called?

Friday, February 3, 2012

chocolate agave syrup

I have a number of coffee-loving friends, some of whom do not use refined sugar. Last Christmas I came across this recipe for coffee syrups, but realized I would have to tweak it for my friends. Because agave can be used as a straight substitute for simple syrup, it was a pretty easy swap. The only problem was that in my first experiments, the agave flavor was stronger than anything I was adding. I finally gave up and decided that they would all have to have chocolate in their coffee. As it turns out, this syrup also makes a fair cup of hot chocolate and tastes pretty good over ice cream. It didn't occur to me until I was finished, but this is just chocolate syrup! It's not particular to coffee.

I bought bottles from here for $5/case. Even with shipping, I seem to remember that it came in well under $2/bottle. The ingredients for the syrup itself (shown for a single 8 oz bottle) are:

  • 1 Tbs. cocoa powder (the very same from yesterday's popcorn)
  • 1 cup agave
  • 1/2 tsp vanilla extract
  • pinch salt
Pour the cocoa powder in a small saucepan and add about 1/4 cup very hot water, stirring to dissolve completely.
Add the agave, and just bring to a very gentle boil, stirring to blend. The mixture will be light at first, then marbled, and finally it will mix into a beautiful dark chocolate color.
Remove from heat, add vanilla and salt and let cool completely before bottling.
You can multiply the quantities to make a batch for gifts. Although these were Christmas gifts, I think the red ribbon and the heart on the label also make them perfect for Valentine's Day. The only change I would make would be to write the label without the word 'coffee,' and with a list of ways the syrup can be used.

Thursday, February 2, 2012

spicy mocha popcorn

Once again the Superbowl somehow snuck up on me. Yesterday I learned that it is happening 3 days from now...!?

Clearly I'm no football fan, but I do love my football-crazy son and he loves a Superbowl party, even if he is both host and sole attendee.

We've talked about a spicy baked shrimp recipe that we saw in the Sunday supplement, and after hearing my sister rave about them, I'm also thinking of making deviled eggs with Sriracha

Yes, this child loves a little heat in his food. So the third thing I will be making is this popcorn, sprinkled with every combination of deep, sweet and spicy powder that we had in the house. The "mocha" is a bit of a misnomer, since there is no milk in here, but I couldn't think of a better way to describe it. Any ideas?
spicy mocha popcorn

1 tsp instant espresso powder
1 tsp cocoa powder
1-2 tsp sugar (I like more, C likes less)
1/4 tsp salt
1/8-1/4 tsp cayenne pepper (I like less, C likes more)

All you do is whisk it together and toss it with a big bowl of popcorn. We pop on the stove, so there is just enough oil on the kernels to hold the powder on. If you use a hot air popper or microwave with no oil, you might want to drizzle a little melted butter or coconut oil over your bowl first.
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