Archive for March, 2012

How to stay zen when you lose all your data

You might be wondering what has happened to Domaphile as of late…. could it be another case of imaginary bedbugs?  What could be worse than that?  I’ll tell you what – Losing all your data!  That might actually be worse than bedbugs. Or at least as expensive.

There is some irony in the fact that the content of this blog is mostly about tangible things: stuff you can grow, gather or make.  But all of it relies on the ephemerality of the bits and bytes that make up a blog.  So, when I woke up a couple of weeks ago, looking forward to a few hours to edit photos for some upcoming posts, I was disturbed to find my trusty hard-drive wouldn’t boot up on my computer.  hmmm. What would be the chances?

After some testing on various computers, I headed to the Apple store where they confirmed that my LaCie 500GB external hard drive that I use to store my photo library (and all my other data for that matter) was on the fritz.  What timing for this to happen on the rare day that I had to actually work on the blog!  But I wasn’t too upset (yet), because having learned the hard way before, I back up my data!  It had been a couple of weeks since I had backed up my hard drive to my larger Iomega Terabyte drive that serves as the household backup for all our devices, so I knew I would lose some recent files, but I headed home to see what was there.  Once home, Murphy’s law went into full effect….. I couldn’t get into the drive.  In total disbelief, I took both hard drives to Tekserve to confirm the worst:  all my data was gone.  I had spent a good deal of time over the past few weeks experimenting with and documenting various projects: re-usable bowl covers, homemade toothpaste, walnut-date balls… gone.  My daughter’s 6th birthday party.  Gone. Gone. Gone.  At least the folks at Tekserve are skilled at giving out this kind of news and they are extremely sympathetic, offering tissues and everything. Plus,  they give out free Cokes in glass bottles which is a nice touch.

I wish I could actually tell you how to stay zen when such an event occurs, but even the free Tekserve cokes didn’t do the trick.  What happened next was quite the opposite of zen:  I spent the first few days in shock as I forked over $1300 for data recovery and two new hard drives. This time, I went with Glyph drives for the following reasons:

  1. Their warranty includes data recovery
  2. The drives come with an internal fan and can stay plugged in for a long time.
  3. I like their retro-design.  Not exactly legitimate, but still.

After the shock wore off, I was just depressed as the reality of two years of lost photos started to sink in.  Maybe blogging isn’t for me.  I took a break.  But after a week or so, I received a call that indeed, my data had been recovered! That improved my mood considerably.  So armed with my two new drives and my data, I am busy devising a new data back-up plan that goes something like this:

  • Download my photos from my camera to my small glyph drive I use every day.
  • Do not immediately re-format the SD card
  • Copy my Aperture library from the small Glyph drive to my main computer that is automatically backed up by the big Glyph via TimeMachine.
  • Once the photos are backed up, then reformat the SD card.
  • Consider cloud storage:  SpiderOak, Crash Plan and Mozy have been recommended.

So that’s my story.  Oddly, most people I have spoken to have some sort of lost data tale.  What do you do to back up your data?  I welcome all your advice so I can figure this out and get back to blogging about toothpaste.

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The Local Foods Wheel

Although there a number of great iphone apps to help you find local food no matter where you are, I love my analog version:  The Local Foods Wheel.  It’s populated with delightful little drawings that give you an appetizing visual of what you should be eating right this moment.  Because it can’t include everything in pictures, the back of the wheel contains a more comprehensive alphabetical list of foods and when they are harvested and available. Wondering about lima beans? They’re harvested and available between August and October. Lavender is harvested as early as June. Oysters, thank goodness, are always seasonal.

The project is the result of a collaboration between three impressive women:  Jessica Prentice, a chef and one of the founders of the locavore movement, came up with the idea. Sarah Klein, an artists whose work is informed by the domestic world, created the drawings. And designer Maggie Gosselin put it all together. Their first wheel focused on the San Francisco Bay Area, where they live, but now they have wheels for the New York Metro Area (mine), the Upper Midwest, and they are currently working on one for Southern California. You can buy them through their web site.

It’s a particularly fun visual way to share with children the mysteries of seasonal food.  Right now, for instance, we are reminded to finish up with the brussel sprouts, start tapping our maple syrup and can anticipate all of the delicate foods of Spring.  I just keep it floating around the kitchen, reminding me that nettles, morels and fiddlehead ferns will all be in season soon!

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Newsflash: Midtown Manhattan not the best place to set up an urban homestead.

by wilhelmja on Flickr Some rights reserved.

Last Week, Apartment Therapy posed a Good Question to its masses:  What are the best cities for young, urban homesteaders on a budget?  There were over 70 responses to the question, extolling the virtues of various chicken-coop friendly cities.  The rust-belt featured prominently, with Pittsburgh taking the lead and Detroit (a personal favorite) coming in a close second.  But the rapturous descriptions of Buffalo, Minneapolis (my hometown), Indianapolis, St. Louis, and even Dallas, made me want to jump in the car for an epic road trip to see what the hell these people are up to out there!

Needless to say, Manhattan didn’t feature high in the budget-friendly urban homesteading category.  There were a couple of shout-outs to Brooklyn (Bed-Stuy, not Park Slope), but it goes without saying that NYC isn’t exactly teeming with inexpensive outdoor space.  That is not to say it isn’t urban farming friendly, what with upwards of 25,000 acres suited for exactly that purpose and rooftop farming on the rise.  Such is the topic of next week’s Urban Agriculture Conference at the Horticultural Society of New York.  On Friday, March 16th, the Society will be addressing the issue of urban farming: is it merely a trend? The kind that goes hand in hand with an economic recession? Or does it reflect a deeper shift in how we view our food production?  The keynote speaker will be Thomas Fox, author of Sustainable Living in your Backyard, your Community, and in the World, who will talk about the upsurge in urban farming in an historical context.  Afterward, there will be a Q&A with an impressive panel including Annie Novak and Britta Riley, discussing various community projects specific to New York City.

It was also about one year ago that the fracas over the term Urban Homesteader blew up the web (at least the part of the web I hang around).  Since then, there has been an increase in discussion about all things related to raising food in an urban environment and has had me thinking about what that term actually means. By definition, it is an alternative lifestyle. And of course, there are different degrees of urban – there is the urban of Novella Carpenter (my hero), raising pigs, ducks and chickens in her decidedly gritty Oakland neighborhood.  And the Urban of Harriet Fasenfest (another hero) in Portland, Oregon, using the confines of her city lot to sustain her family. And then there is midtown Manhattan: the end of the road on the urban spectrum.

Clearly, I find this topic compelling. What does it mean to participate in urban homesteading in the context of high-rises and limited outdoor space?  Does growing a few plants in your apartment, composting your building and making your own deodorant qualify?  I’m guessing probably not. There is not much about my life that is alternative: we are your run-of-the-mill two-working-parent family trying to subsist in the center of the largest metropolitan area in the country.  We’re busy. Manhattan is about convenience. About delivery. Some days it feels overwhelming. But despite my back-to-the-land fantasies, I love being part of this urban community and exploring ways to incorporate the values of the urban homesteaders into the laboratory of my tiny apartment and busy schedule.  I think it is about examining our routines and questioning our consumption and I am inspired by the fact that it’s a growing topic of conversation in general. How many of you are out there, working 9 to 5 and doing some kind of kooky, sustainable project the other 9-5?  Urban folk, how are you changing up your food gathering and production?  I’m not talking big projects, but small ones – and I would love to hear from you!

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A Handweaving Crafternoon at NYPL

This past weekend, I had the excellent fortune to attend NYPL’s Crafternoon! The topic – hand weaving –  was just one of the latest in a number of serendipitous events that seem to be pointing me in the direction of my loom, but the truth is I have been hankering to attend a Crafternoon for the last couple of years. Somehow the timing never worked out – until now.

Handmade Crafternoons are the result of the combined genius of Maura Madden, a writer and performer who started crafting parties with her friends over a decade ago and eventually wrote a book about it , and Jessica Pigza, a crafty rare-book librarian at NYPL, who was looking to expand the programming at the library.  I have admired Jessica since she partnered with Design*Sponge back in 2008 to create Design by the Book, a series of online episodes inviting various local artists to use NYPL’s vast collection of primary source material to inspire their own work.  Each episode is beautifully produced and highlights the relevance of the Library’s collection to the creative process.

Started in 2009, the NYPL Crafternoons bring the same idea to the crafting public by inviting people to participate in projects like lace-making, zine-making, stitching felt,  and book arts. Each event includes a special guest (usually an artist or “celebrity crafter” – past guests have included Ayun Halliday and Debbie Stoller, some personal favorites), a hands-on project, and a display of related resources from the Library’s collection.  Awesome, right?

So on Saturday afternoon, I made my way down to 42nd street with great anticipation.  I knew that the special guests were going to be members of the New York Guild of Handweavers and I was expecting the event to be a demonstration of how floor looms work.  With upwards of 50 guests, I wasn’t sure how a hands-on portion would be possible.  When I arrived, there were several beautiful table looms on display, along with an array of fabric samples and weaving books.

My favorite was this lovely little table loom, the Structo Artcraft.  First manufactured as a toy, I hear it is still in use at FIT to teach basic fiber classes (but that is – as of press time – still unconfirmed).

When I was done nerding out on all of the table loom models, pattern books and cloth samples, I was delighted to see tables set up with yarn and other crafting supplies, too!

And at each seat was a tiny DIY loom made of popsicle sticks, already warped and ready for use – 50 in all!

The session started with a welcome by Jessica and Maura and an introduction of New York Guild of Handweavers present  –  a group of people from all walks of life, brought together by their love of the fiber arts, as evidenced by the amazing handwoven scarves most were wearing.  The guild is the oldest in the United States, started in 1941 by Berta Frey, an occupational therapist who wrote many books on weaving.  They meet once a month during the academic year and welcome new members and novice weavers.  According to one member I spoke to, when approached with the idea of participating in a Crafternoon, the challenge was to figure out how to get people weaving themselves, rather than just holding a demonstration.  The answer was in the rigid-heddle backstrap loom made out of…. popsicle sticks! Members spent several hours constructing and warping the ingenious looms we were using, which functioned as a perfect introduction to the basic concepts of the craft.  If you are so inspired to make one yourself, the instructions are here.  After the introduction, the guild members fanned out to each table to demonstrate the use of our miniature backstrap looms.

With one end of the warp threads tied to the table and threaded through the sticks  – one color in the holes and the other in the spaces between the sticks – the other end of the warp threads were tied to my belt loop (for those sans belt loops, they had a rope you could use to tie on to your waist).  The spaces between the warp threads could be made by lifting up or pushing down the sticks – which acted as both heddle and shaft.  The first step was to spread out the warp threads tied to my waist and to do this we used two sets of chopsticks and their wrappers.  I loved the DIY and recycling aspect of this project.  One could literally make all the elements of this loom out of crap you know you have in your apartment.  Even the shuttles – used to hold the weft thread – were made out of discarded cardboard.  It took about five minutes to get up and running and was the perfect way to learn the basic tenets of how cloth is made.

There was a buzz in the room as 50 of us sat tied to the tables chatting and weaving. After awhile, I started to get curious about what everyone else was doing and untied myself to go see:

And this is what I love about weaving and fibers.  We are all working with the most basic of tools and creating such a wide variety of patterns and designs.  From here, the next step up is a basic lap loom, the kind that one of my very favorite artists, Sheila Hicks, used in the 1960’s to create a large series of small weavings that read more like paintings.

Penelope's Descendent. Sheila Hicks.

From there, you can move on to two, four, or eight-harness floor looms and the possibilities are endless!  By the end of the afternoon, I was already planning my next project and committed to using the yarn I have at home to do it.  As a lovely end-note to the event, I even won a raffle prize of two exquisite loom-woven napkins – something to aspire to when I join the Guild.  At $40/year, why wouldn’t you join such a cool organization?  Plus, I’ve always wanted to be a member of a guild.

So the Crafternoon delivered! There is something wonderful about going to the library to make something and it has inspired me to think about how I can promote the use of my own library collection in new and hands-on ways. And it was fabulous to meet Maura and Jessica, whom I had long admired through the blogosphere.  I can hardly wait for the next on on April 14th, featuring artist Noah Scalin on kickstarting your creativity through making something every day. Sign me up.  Wanna join me?

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Curried Butternut Squash Soup

The weather is chilly again. Time for soup.  It has been a month since we terminated our experiment in virtuous eating –  ending it with a Dim Sum bang followed up by a heavy festival of schnitzel.  Now we are back to the conventional arc of caffeine to wine that makes us better parents.  Well, sort of.  We still begin our day with a delicious smoothie.  And sometimes we end it with this butternut squash soup, the result of a triumphant attempt on the part of my husband to convert our standard recipe  – Bon Appetit’s Butternut Squash Soup with Cider Cream (which I also highly recommend) – into something essentially vegan. The key is the curry powder, a pinch of cayenne,  and the inspired addition of coconut kefir to finish. It’s both comforting and wholesome – perfect for this gloomy weather.

Vegan Roasted Butternut Squash Curry Soup

1 medium to large butternut squash, peeled, seeded, and coarsely chopped
1 sweet potato, peeled and coarsely chopped
2 large carrots, peeled and coarsely chopped
1/2 medium onion, coarsely chopped
1-2 teaspoons curry powder
Salt and pepper
2 Tablespoons vegetable oil
¼ teaspoon cinnamon
¼ teaspoon cayenne pepper
½ – 1 cup plain coconut kefir (cultured coconut milk)
water

Preheat oven to 425 degrees.

Toss squash, sweet potato, carrots, onion, curry powder, and salt and pepper to taste in a large mixing bowl with enough oil to coat well. Roast in a large cast iron skilled or roasting pan until very soft and slightly caramelized (45-60 minutes).

Cool slightly and transfer vegetables (in batches, if necessary) to a blender or food processor. Add cinnamon and cayenne. Puree while adding kefir and enough water to desired consistency. Correct seasoning.

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