Wednesday, October 31, 2012

This Blog Has Moved

Hi, friends.  I've chosen to move my blog over to Wordpress, and I hope you'll follow me there!  The url is

Monday, September 24, 2012

My Slice of the Nile

As some of you may know, I love container gardening.  I like it because the small size allows me to be much more creative in terms of how I add interest.  Also, bonus, it's a hell of a lot easier and more manageable than plotting out a whole landscape in my garden (which, sidenote, has a fricking cucumber growing!  I am so pleased!).  While I've been working on organizing my yard into something more aesthetically pleasing and less weedy, sometimes I just need a quick shot of energy.

That was how I put together this beautiful container garden.  I have to admit, at first I was annoyed, because the garden center didn't have many things designed to hold water, and so I was forced to settle for this rather utilitarian plastic planter.  I had been envisioning half-barrels with single perfect water lilies, so this was a decided step down. 

What I realized, though, once I put together container and the plants I'd chosen, those that enjoy having their feet wet, was that I had a microcosm of a beautiful riverbank.  Because of the fronds, it felt very Egyptian to me, so I promptly played up that aspect.  Can you see the little marble camel lounging in the shade?

There's a pyramid too!
The management for this garden is almost non-existent.  Once the plants were set at proper heights (using tiny upended dishes for those that need more elevation), I filled it up with water, and since then, I've more or less forgotten about it apart from occasionally refilling.  I'll probably throw a little compost tea in soon to feed the plants as well.  But it sits on my front stoop, bringing a shot of artistry to its rather pedestrian surroundings, and it makes me smile every time I see it.

I'm still dreaming of that half-barrel and water lily, though!

Monday, August 20, 2012

Artist's Way Week Five

So this is where I start to go off the rails with Julia Cameron's The Artist's Way.  Oh, I'm still doing my morning pages and treating myself to exciting "dates" like going to the garden center or renting a movie from Amazon Instant Viewing (ah, life in a small town). 

For Week Five, Cameron talks about prosperity.  Now I suppose there are ways to talk about prosperity that aren't offensive--for example, the President could talk about how to increase national prosperity, and that would be nice (nicer yet if he had a workable plan, but we'll let that pass).  But in general, when you use the word prosperity, you've lost me.  First off, it's more or less a polite way of saying money.  Second, it's too diffuse and general a term.  What is prosperity?  Is it having a fresh cup of quality coffee every morning?  Compared to most of the world's standards for living, that's pretty prosperous, and I could check that off--I am prosperous.  But that doesn't mean I don't owe a small nation's GDP in student loans.  My net worth on a financial scale is negative. 

But Cameron insists that God wants to help me out with all this.  Indeed, the only hangup is that I am too reluctant and faithless to really trust God to help me become prosperous.

It is, I hope, self-evident that this is crap.  It is a grotesque blend of Prosperity Gospel and The Secret: the worst of both worlds.  It is where New Age meets televangelists, and can you really imagine a worse place than that?

Jesus is not Santa Claus.  He does not hand out candy as a reward for good behavior.  I wish he did because then a) I'd get to meet him, and b) I would maybe have some candy.  Like, maybe one fuzzy Bit o' Honey.  Remember when Jesus said, "Your father who sees in secret will reward you in secret"?  That didn't mean a flashy car.  That meant the kingdom of heaven.  You know, after you die?

One of the Artist's Way exercises for this week had me write down the reasons I couldn't really believe in a supportive God.  I felt only one word was needed: Auschwitz.  Yes, the Holocaust is an answer so easy that it's almost cliche, but there is nothing else that so cleanly encapsulates the fact that God is not going to protect you from bad things.  He may support your spirit, he may whisk you off to a life of ease and joy among the clouds, but the one thing he doesn't do is shut down the fricking gas chambers when you're about to be killed.  God's chosen people prayed for deliverance, and six million of them were killed.  So the next time you start talking to God about how you'd really like a new car, or even a big bag of groceries so you can stop eating those disgusting canned peas, put it in perspective. 

I know this is a lengthy post, and it's obvious that Cameron has pushed some of my buttons with this stuff.  But saying that we can achieve prosperity by entering the flow or obeying God or anything other than working our asses off and hoping for the best is the worst kind of first-world victim blaming.  Sorry, small child who is dying of starvation right now.  I guess you just didn't trust God enough.

Sunday, August 19, 2012

Strawberry Dandy

I started investigating fruit shrubs this weekend—no, not currant bushes, though I am in the midst of executing a new garden project that I hope will be photo-ready soon. No, what I'm talking about is a sweet, vinegared fruit syrup—a trend on which I am way  behind. In investigating the mix, I found that refreshing drinks using shrubs date back to colonial days. Though I couldn't personally verify this claim, I did find an 1890 recipe for “Raspberry Shrub or Vinegar” here  that seems to be pretty much the same idea.

Many modern bartenders are apparently now turning to the shrub as inspiration for cocktails—and I decided to follow suit with an invention of my own! What follows is a recipe for a Strawberry Dandy, a cocktail that would be perfect for a summer garden party or a Sunday brunch.

Strawberry Dandy
1 part strawberry shrub syrup
2 parts Dubonnet Rouge
2 parts seltzer, chilled

Combine strawberry shrub and Dubonnet Rouge in a cocktail shaker with ice and shake vigorously. Pour into a glass and top with seltzer.

For strawberry shrub:

1 teacup of water
1 teacup of sugar
1 teacup of roughly chopped strawberries (I used some pretty sketchy ones from the back of the refrigerator)
1 sprig of fresh lavender (this is a completely unnecessary grace note)
½ teacup of white vinegar

To anticipate objections, it doesn't matter how big your teacup is, as long as you use the same teacup for all measurements. Stir together water and sugar over a low flame to create a simple syrup. Add chopped strawberries and smash roughly to release juices. Simmer for approximately five minutes, then allow to “steep” for fifteen to thirty minutes more. Strain the syrup and discard (or devour) solids. Pour into a jar with lavender sprig and vinegar. This will keep in your refrigerator for about a week.

Friday, August 17, 2012

The Princess Syndrome

These days, if you read an article about little girls, it's often bemoaning their enslavement to Disney Princesses.  They only want to dress in pink and pretend to be a princess, mothers bewail.  This is not progressive or even aesthetically desirable.

But personally, I find the princess backlash confusing because seriously, who the fuck didn't want to be a princess?  Long before Disney princesses, before the Princess Diaries, there was still Sara Crewe and her eternal pretense of princesshood.

For those unfamiliar with the 1905 Francis Hodgson Burnett book A Little Princess, it is the story of a pampered child, who, thrust into adversity and servitude as a London slavey, uses her imagination to sustain herself and others.  Sara's longstanding "pretend" is of being a princess, and she comports herself so admirably that all who behold her are moved by her grace and generosity.

This was a touchstone book for me as a child--I, like Sara, had a great many pretends and plays that shaped my character.  Like Sara, I loved beautiful things and imagined my world into something far grander.

I found myself considering this question tonight as I realized that I, thirty-two, fat and dissolute, still want to be a goddamn princess.  So why, I asked myself, is this still a thing?  What is it about princesses that makes them so special?

Then it occurred to me--what other type of woman, in our shitty society, is automatically valued simply for who she is?  For the effortless task of being born?  She walks into a room and everybody pays attention. Her likes and dislikes matter. Her interests are encouraged. She is an object of beauty in and of herself.  I'm speaking, understand, of the idea of the princess more than actual princesses.  Actual princesses seem pretty miserable, which is a shame, but doesn't change the ideal at all.

What of you, dear reader?  Were you a princess or did you have more progressive dreams as a child?

Sunday, August 12, 2012

Artist's Way: Weeks Three and Four

I didn't want anyone who might be reading this to imagine I had drifted away from this commitment to a "creative recovery" so early on.  Last week was just a little quiet, with no drama apart from running out of empty notebook and having to buy an emergency composition book at the grocery store.

This week, however, things started happening.  Noveling came thick and fast.  Blog posts were written.  Three pages written every morning became just a thing I did.  I have to say, feeling this comfortable with my creativity is pretty awesome.  There are still things I don't like about the program (more on that next week!), but it does seem to be a good sort of roto-rooter for the brain.

Also!  I finally went on a really good artist date, to the Museum of Fine Arts Houston.  That was actually a lot of time, so I may have to try and do better dates with myself in the future.

Friday, August 10, 2012

Support Art: On the Uses of Wealth

Yes, dear readers, it is time for me to get on my high horse and abuse the wealthy once more--not, however, for precisely the reason you would expect. 

Yesterday, I visited the Museum of Fine Arts Houston, where there was an exhibit of Duncan Phyfe furniture.  Because I enjoy decorative arts just as much as fine arts, if not more, I spent a fair amount of time looking over this exhibit.  As I looked at graceful lines, rich woods, and carefully tailored purposes, I thought, "This is what rich people are for."

I won't say that only rich people can be patrons of the arts.  But it is, in general, their best and most important role in society.  Rich people want nice things, so they support artists, who (ideally) then go on to share their talent with the rest of us.

But going to the "Indulge" section of the Neiman Marcus website (something guaranteed to raise the blood pressure of anyone who works hard to keep a roof over their head and food on the table) shows that the rich, apparently, can think of nothing to do with their money but buy items that look like everything else in the world, but cost ten times as much.  Where are the hand-bejeweled chess sets?

This is my argument: not with the money spent, but with the poor value of money spent.  In the old days, rich people knew how to spend money.  They bought beautiful, costly things.  What are we going to put in a museum a hundred years from now?  A Fendi bag?  Maybe!  But darlings, let's face it--the rich have deserted fashion as well, and haute couture is now functionally dead.  There will never be another Elsa Schiaparelli.  Instead, fashion struggles to retain relevancy where it has, in general, neither taste nor beauty nor the good craftsmanship that should be the hallmark of a couturier.

Really, Mitt?  Where is your costly diadem?!
Consider, if you will, Mitt Romney, everybody's favorite money-stuffed punching bag.  Mitt Romney could go around encrusted with rubies and draped in ermine.  Or he could wear a suit made of chinchilla.  Instead, Romney spends what I'm sure is a tidy sum to look like "just another" corporate casual asshole.  Well done, sir.  I salute you.  His wife seems to have slightly (only slightly) better priorities.  Her fondness for expensive horseflesh is decadent and conventional.  But what's all this shit about elevators for the Cadillacs?  For that kind of money, you could fund the education of another Cellini and set him up with costly materials to make a treasure for humanity.

So rich people, please stop wasting your money on crap.  Support artists.  Support art.  Give humanity something beautiful.