Trash Talk

litter.jpgAllyson Hill writes a fun little blog when she isn’t creating nifty things for her shop at Etsy. Allyson makes zip pouches/wristlet bags, tissue cozies, a purse she calls a “drop sac”, and a car (that’s as in ‘auto’, not ‘feline’) litter bag. It’s the litter bag that I especially love. That’s one on the left, in a charming and wacky owl and leaf print.

litterrest1.jpgAllyson’s litter bag is incredibly clever. She’s made the strap adjustable to fit just about anywhere you’d want to use it in your car, designed the bag so that it stays open for easy use, and made a smart interior that lets you use liners for quick cleaning. Even better, she makes each bag out of vintage-y fabrics in a huge variety of colors and patterns. Who knew trash could be so much fun?

litterp.jpgI think Allyson’s designs are awesome, but I’m just not adventuresome enough to make deco part of my car’s interior. Allyson’s pink and turquoise “Gum Dots” bag, for example, is for expansive personalities. Me, I’m a tweedy kind of person, so I did a riff on Allyson’s litter bag. (Well, yeah, what I really did is make it boring. Sigh.)

tweedy-bag.jpgHere’s mine, in a tasteful black/grey tweed to match the (equally boring) interior of the car I drive most. My bag’s a little different — I used ripstop for the lining, instead of Alyson’s nicer duck (it’s what I had around the house) and I’m sure that my method for holding the bag open is much kludgier than Allyson’s, but it works well, and I’m very happy with the result.

tweedy-bag-mickey-box.jpgMine is attached to the interior of my upper glove box. It just happens that my glove box hinges work perfectly for this; I can even get into the lower box without removing the litter bag. Allyson also shows hers hanging from headrests (second image, above right) and on a gearshift; she’ll even customize the length for you if you want.

tweedy-bag-interior.jpgNo, I’m not going to explain how I made mine; if you get inspired, as I did, and want to do all the work yourself, have at it. But if you’d rather have a bright, glorious (and useful!) accent in your vehicle, check out Allyson’s offerings. For not much more than you’d spend for an inadequate trash container at Target, you can smile every time you throw out your used latte cup, and own a litter bag everyone else will admire, too.


Bento 15 – Black Rice Noodles

Black Rice Noodles, Shitake Mushrooms and Shrimp

Image of a Small Bento with Black Rice Noodles

Here’s mine, in a standard bento box

Upper Tier: Black rice noodles with shitakes, green onions, garlic and shrimp

Lower Tier: Straw-cut carrots, pineapple with Vietnamese cinnamon, cucumber with black sesame seeds

Here’s Allium’s, in a single-layer box that’s really meant for serving sushi (I think)

Image of a Bento with Black Rice Noodles

Top: Black rice noodles with shitakes, green onions, garlic and shrimp, decorated with strips of egg

Bottom: Cucumber with black sesame seeds, pineapple and blackberries in a cup, straw-cut carrots

Right: Fruit gels


Diwali and the Nature of Miracles

lak-doll.jpgDiwali is a five day festival occurring during the Hindu month of Kartik, which generally corresponds to the western months of October or November. Diyas, or oil-filled clay lamps, are lit to chase away the darkness of the darkest night of the moon cycle, simultaneously celebrating the coronation of Lord Rama and his return to rule Ayodhya after 14 years of exile.

The third day of Diwala belongs to the four-armed goddess Lakshmi who is invoked by the clamor and chanting of humans and descends to earth on this day. According to this Diwali website,

[A] sublime light of knowledge dawns upon humanity and this self enlightenment is expressed through the twinkling lamps that illuminate the palaces of the wealthy as well as the lowly abodes of the poor. It is believed that on this day Lakshmi walks through the green fields and loiters through the bye-lanes and showers her blessings on man for plenty and prosperity.

laks.jpgTwo years ago, in Arhariya, in the northern Indian state of Bihar, a baby was born during the festival of Diwali who appeared to be an incarnation of the goddess Lakshmi. The daughter of Poonam Tatma and her husband Shambhu appeared to have four extra limbs; unsurprisingly her parents named her Lakshmi.

“First when we saw her we were really scared. She was born during Diwali so everyone in the village said our child was Goddess Lakshmi incarnate because she had eight limbs. Everyone started worshipping her. We also worshipped her,” says Lakshmi’s father, Shambhu. (IBNLive)

fam-before.jpgScience has a straightforward explanation for little Lakshmi’s physical state. She is one of a set of conjoined twins; her sister twin failed to develop, and her body fused with Lakshmi’s in utero. Lakshmi was born with the partial twin attached to her body at the pelvis and lower abdomen.

Her parents said they had been offered money to sell her. “We took her to a hospital in Delhi but circus owners heard about her, wanted to turn her into a freak show and offered us money,” her father told an Indian newspaper. (UK Independent)

Instead, Lakshmi’s parents, poor laborers who reportedly earn approximately $1.00 (USD) per day, persisted in their search to find doctors who would treat their vibrant little daughter. Reports vary, but at least one hospital refused treatment based on its projected cost; several doctors are said to have turned the family away because they felt the surgery was too risky. But a little more than a week ago, at Sparsh Hospital, on the outskirts of Bangalore, Lakshmi’s extraneous limbs were removed in an operation that took more than 24 hours.

pre-xr.jpgFor a month surgeons evaluated Lakshmi’s situation to determine, among other things, which legs would be saved. Of four kidneys, one had to be repositioned into Lakshmi’s body; the spine of Lakshmi’s conjoined twin had to be separated from Lakshmi’s own without causing damage; pelvic reconstruction was an issue. The puzzle’s schemata is clear, even to untrained eyes, in this x-ray.

Surgeons began operating on November 6, 2007; a week later, Lakshmi is out of intensive care; she’s eating solid foods; her digestive tract is working as it should; she is interacting with her family appropriately. Still, she’s not out of the woods yet. There are still concerns about wound healing and infections, and she will, at a minimum, require surgery on her feet, which are clubbed, in order to walk.

lak-post.jpgThat’s her post-operative x-ray at the right; Lakshmi is wearing a cast over her lower body, with supports along her legs. The cast is partially to restrict Lakshmi’s movements so that her wounds can mend properly, but also to position her legs and hips as they heal.

The technology of saving Lakshmi seems wondrous enough on its own, but what strikes me most about this particular story is the idea that this child was born to these particular parents — parents of theoretically limited means who gave wings to their dream for their daughter.

post-fam2.jpgThese are parents — impoverished and living without electricity in a remote village of fewer than 200 people — who proved unstoppable until they had found the help their child needed to have a chance to live as full a life as possible. Science is mere technology; that kind of love is a miracle. Goddess or not, this child was born blessed.

The picture (above, left) of Lakshmi and her family was taken post-surgery. Lakshmi’s six-year-old brother Mithilesh is partly shown (yellow shirt); he appears in the pre-op family photo above. Poonam Tatma is six months pregnant; ultrasound has shown that the baby is healthy.

Shambhu, Lakshmi’s father, has said that ” [All] this expenditure has happened to make her normal.” (UK Independent), but the contrasts between Lakshmi’s extraordinary medical intervention and her rural origins will always be with her, one way or another. In her home village, CNN reports, “[M]any villagers . . . remained opposed to surgery and [are] planning to erect a temple to Lakshmi, whom they still revere as sacred”.

The glowing photo of Lakshmi (above right) was taken before her surgery.

Picture of Lakshmi figure from Flickr; interesting notes at this link as well


Bento 14 – Tofu, Umeboshi and Carrots

Tasty Tofu (No, really!)

Image of a Bento with Tofu, Umibosh and  Carrots

Upper Left: Green grapes

Upper Right: Carrots and celery (Allium decoratively scored the carrots down the side to make them flower-like)

Lower Left: Steamed rice with furikake and an umeboshi

Lower Right: Tofu roasted with five spices

I’m not always a big fan of tofu — usually it’s just boring. Dusting the cubes with Chinese Five Spice powder and then roasting it didn’t make the tofu exactly exciting, but it did make it tasty, and gave it a very un-tofu-like, almost crunchy texture. Quite nice with shoyu enhanced with garlic and ginger (which I packed in a very small Nalgene bottle that isn’t shown).


Pox Populi

pmap.jpgAllium and I made the pilgrimage to the new Perelman building at the Philadelphia Art Museum when it first opened. Meant as a research and teaching center, the expanded building also houses collections that the Philadelphia Museum of Art previously has not had room to display. Most of the new facility is open the public, including a library; some archives are open to scholars only.

We both were horrified by our initiation into the Perelman experience — and yes, I’m going to get the horror over fast by writing this post first — but delighted as we moved onto other galleries. The Perelman’s well worth a visit. But first, the chaff. Wheat comes later.

The first gallery Allium and I entered at the Perelman was light and beautiful, with sun streaming through glorious arched art deco windows onto a gleaming hardwood floor. It took a full thirty seconds for the contents of the room to register, and for the two of us to lock eyes in astonished dismay. Gallery: simple, sleek, gorgeous. Content: laughable. Take a little tour with us and see what you think.


What is art, anyway? Smack in the middle of the floor is this circle of stones. It’s from 1985; it’s called “Limestone”. The curator describes this work as “a ring, a universal form reminiscent of ancient ritual practice” . . . “[A]rranged directly on the floor with no clear boundaries”.

The only thing worse than the ‘art’ in this gallery was the curation. Personally, I prefer my curation to enlighten. Do I really have to be told that this thing is “a ring”? And what, exactly, is meant by claiming that it’s “a universal form reminiscent of ancient ritual practice”? Is that all a “ring” represents? (I think not!) Is this just a sloppy attempt by a curator to remind us that rings are symbolic and therefore expected to resonate within our little museum-going psyches?

Or could this possibly be an embarrassed curator’s attempt to get a quick and dirty description out of the way as fast as possible? Or is it evidence of the dispair of a museum employee expected to say something about nothing?

And what’s with the “arranged directly on the floor with no clear boundaries”? Doesn’t a circle describe a boundary? What does that say about your “ancient ritual practice”? Well, you’ll have to figure it out for yourself; the curation here is as lightweight as it gets — oh, wait a minute, just like the collection itself!

Imagine my shock, though, in discovering, 22 years too late, that my baby was an artistic genius! My own toddler made a circle ring identical to this one in the dirt of our northern farm land, all by herself. The very same year! Of course, there wasn’t any limestone handy — just plebeian rocks. Maybe that’s the difference . . .

knot.jpgBut let’s move on. We have here, on the left, a giant “Knot” from 1993, made of plaster, iron, and pigment. At least we get a little more information on this one — it’s a reference to a European folktale about a rat-king, and meant to evoke emeshed rat-tails. Let the curator speak: “Knot’s elegant form commands the space around it with uncanny authority, yet at the same time remains freighted with the eeriness of its origins.”

Oh? At the risk of playing the semanticist, “its origins” are plaster, iron and pigment. Perhaps the curator refers to the inspirational folktale? Even so, this hardly strikes me as eerie — it resembles, most of all, the button knots on Chinese garments — ‘elegant’, yes, symmetrical, ubiquitious, and ordinary. Or, in this case, gigantic and ordinary.

Personally, I admire anyone who wrestles with iron, but I can see this made up of the enticing fat black ducting tubes at Home Depot — maybe with a nice walnut base for home installation?

rainbow-spikes.jpgMoving on, we spy a forest of rainbow spikes. Charming, indeed, yet with a fine sinister quality, if you consider them installed in a playground where dozens of little children might impale themselves. “Splotch demonstrates a newfound exuberance of color and shape” says the curator. “Newfound exuberance”? Was it lost?

“[P]roduced with the aid of computer technology”, continues our guide. Have you longed to see the charts on your spreadsheet application in 3-D? This is your time; here is your place.

bulbs.jpgIn a corner, light bulbs in ceramic sockets. Lit. Whooee. They’re from 1992; “untitled (petit palais)” [sic]. Witty! It’s untitled and titled! (Or should I have said “brilliant”?) I have an artistically gifted brother-in-law (an adult, not a toddler); if I saw this in the corner of his loft, I’d be quite tickled. He’s a amusing lad; I expect this kind of thing of him.

clothes-chair.jpgHere’s “Clothesline Amerigo for my father”, from 1963. This one asks the question: Does a ludicrous title and supporting curation make it art? That’s a chair dangling from a rope on the right and a patchwork of wood, steel, and iron pieces variously standing and dangling all over the rest of it.

The curator claims that “the title conflates the experiences of the Italian explorer Amerigo Vespucci . . . with those of the artist’s own father”. Right. There’s a junk shop in our town that regularly produces sculptures like this; a number of citizens have been working for years to get the owner to clean up his front yard. Maybe that’s an homage to Vespucci, too. Did Vespucci have a junk collection? Use a clothesline? Dangle a chair?

That’s enough of this gallery. I saw the stuff, I photographed it, I wrote about it. I’ve now suffered quite enough for art.

Snarky, I know. But I felt dirty after spending time in this gallery. Even so, there’s a subversive part of me that is secretly thrilled that these ‘artists’ were paid for what look like fun DIY projects. But another part of me is sick that the museum wrote the checks.

Allium and I marched bravely on to modern design, and felt better for it.

Perelman photo from Flickr


Bento 13 – Rice Rolls and Shu Mai

Bento 13 – Rice Rolls, Red Pepper and and Egg

Image of a Bento Box With a Cow-Shaped Egg

Upper Tier: Rice rolls with furikake or nori, red peppers with scalloped edges

Lower Tier: Shu Mai from Trader Joe’s on a bed of edamame, hard-boiled egg molded into the shape of a cow’s head, pineapple with shredded ginger, very small container of dipping sauce

Black Tray: Okaki meguri (rice crackers) and technical chopsticks from Snow Peak, all of which just fit under the domed lid (not shown) of the bento box

The Shu Mai wasn’t as tough as it was last time, probably because I added nearly a tablespoon of water to the bowl in which I microwaved them — and watched the time very carefully, taking them out before they were quite warm.

About that egg — it was a lot of fun to put the hard-boiled eggs into ice cream molds to shape them, and the process worked pretty well (details to follow later, maybe). But I don’t know; I’m not so sure I’m really excited about eating an egg that looks like a cow’s head.

Image of a Pair of Snow Peak ChopsticksMy in-laws gave me these wonderful chopsticks. The wooden tips slide into the metal cases, which are also the handles. The tips are screwed into the case to make full-size chopsticks. They come with a nifty sleeve and cord, too.

Update: The chopsticks aren’t on Snow Peak’s website any longer. Or maybe they are, and it’s just too difficult to find them. Check out REI , though; they’re on the website and in my local store, too.


‘Bent, Not Bento

We’ve been thinking about the issues of fitness, health and transportation around here, and are looking at recumbent bikes — or, in my case, recumbent trikes. Our nearest ‘bent dealer is three hours away, so I took the day off to test drive the entry-level model we’ve been considering.

Serious recumbents are expensive — three or four thousand dollars and up, depending. Even entry-level ‘bents aren’t cheap, and entry-level trikes cost more than two-wheelers. We’re considering a ‘bent as a car replacement, though, which changes the picture a bit. An entry-level ‘bent, at one-tenth the price of a good used car, doesn’t seem quite as extravagant as it otherwise might.

I knew that I wanted a recumbent for comfort (as well as for the sake of my spine), and I wanted a trike for stability. Underseat steering was a must, as my arms aren’t happy when held out or up for hours at a time. All three of the trikes I rode today met these criteria, but the three could not have been more different.

sun.jpgOnline, it looked as if the Sun EZ3 USX ($950 USD) would be the perfect choice. It was sitting, appropriately, in the autumnal sun, in all its silvery glory, when I arrived at Recumbent Bike Riders. (If it’s a six-hour round trip, call ahead.) Rob, the store’s owner, quickly adjusted it to my size and I tooled around the shop’s large (and mercifully, empty) parking lot.

I loved it. The Sun’s wheelbase felt long and elegant. The cycle flowed across the lot, and I felt utterly relaxed. The Sun is a delta trike, meaning that the double wheels are behind the rider’s seat, and the single front wheel provides directional turning. Reality intruded only when I needed to steer or shift: because my legs are short, the seat was too close to the steering bar (a situation that might be partially remedied with a more complex adjustment). I was forced to hold my elbows too close to my torso, cramping my arms and hands. Not so good.

z.jpgInside, I spied a Sidewinder (about $1600 USD). The Sidewinder is a tadpole trike; the dual wheels are in front. The Sidewinder’s single rear wheel steers — a feature I found very counter-intuitive. I found myself thinking hard about directional matters, which, oddly, helped not at all.

Counter-intuitive or not, the Sidewinder was a blast to ride. It’s positively nimble compared to the Sun, and has a tight, and hugely entertaining, turning radius. The geek in me loved the kooky differential (what’s up with that?), and I liked the looks of the frame, with its curved side bars, very much. The model I rode was an oh-so-suitable ruby red — a bit of dash that only added to its appeal.

However, something about the Sidewinder’s seat/pedal axis just didn’t seem right to me. (In fairness, Rob had pointed out that he thought I’d need different seat bars to get the right angle. Yes, I’m short!) Although this trike was the most fun to ride, it wasn’t particularly comfortable. I was beginning to feel a little bit like Goldilocks — in love with an idea, but not finding anything that was just right.

cruiser.jpgThen Rob suggested the notably plain-framed, stripped-to-the-basics TerraTrike (about $1300 USD). It wasn’t glamorous, like the long and lanky Sun, nor sexy like the Sidewinder, but something clicked. The TerraTrike is another tadpole, but with front wheel steering that felt very natural. The steering felt almost primitive, in a lovely, historic way — reminiscent of a very early motor car. Rob thought that the pedals were just as high as on the Sidewinder, but the angle on the TerraTrike felt much better. My arms fell perfectly into place and the trike felt “just right”. No glam, no tricks, but well-suited to me. Good enough for a long day’s cruising.

turnpike.jpgSome, though not all, recumbents can be ordered directly from dealers, but we had already decided not to go that route. I’m mechanically inclined, but no longer interested in fiddling with everyday things, so we want to be within driving distance of a shop if/when troubles arise. A long drive on a day like today when the air is crisp and clear, the hills are beautiful, and the turnpike empty, is almost as relaxing as touring on a cycle. And, in any case, it’s important to support the guys who do keep ‘bents in stock so that they can be tried before purchase.

It was all I could do to resist the temptation to bring the thing home on the roof of the very tiny car I’d driven. In the end I did the responsible thing — we’ve got a few issues to clear up here, as Allium’s huge international employer is cleaning house after some spectacular failures, and we’ve got to figure out how to manage the garage so that the trike can live there, too. Rob threw a bit of a wrench into the works, too, when he pointed out that he’s expecting to see some more, good-quality, entry-level ‘bents this coming spring. Can I really wait until then? This was one sweet afternoon . . .

Turnpike photo from Flickr

Update (11/7/07): After a series of unpleasant emails from Sun representative Joe Z., I will not recommend Sun products to anyone, and definitely won’t be buying one myself. If you’re interested in a lower-priced recumbent, I’d urge you to wait until spring, when Sun is expected to have a great deal more competition as newer, less-expensive models from other companies join the field.


Bento 12 – Squash

Onigiri with Squash and Asparagus

Image of a Bento Box With Squash

Upper Left: Pears broiled with ginger and honey

Upper Right: Roasted asparagus and red pepper

Lower Left: Nori-wrapped onigiri with tuna, wasabi mayonnaise and sambol olek

Lower Right: Onion and squash sauteed in broth, with black pepper



Not too long ago, thanks to a really dreadful SEPTA train schedule, I found myself in Philadelphia with time to kill before meeting Allium after work.

Image of a Train Tunnel Through the Train Window

After an hour trapped on a jerky and poorly air-conditioned train I wanted to move — a lot. I was already sweaty and grimy; there was no point in even imagining that I would be able to reclaim the newly-showered and dewy freshness that had been mine when I first set out. Perambulation seemed to be the answer. I headed out from Suburban Station to see what I could see.

On Walnut Street, I realized that I have simply not been paying enough attention to good old Burberry, they of the dull, ubiquitous — and oft-forged — plaid. Someone at Burberry has developed an imagination — and, maybe, a sense of humor, too. This lovely garment isn’t the creation I saw in Burberry’s window; I can’t find a picture of the actual thing anywhere. But this is a good starting point; in fact, it’s almost the same dress.

Image of a Gray Wool Sleeveless Dress

My dress builds on this one, a gray wool flannel from the Prorsum collection. Imagine, instead, a higher neckline, almost to a shirt collar line. Keep that waist seam which hovers just above the actual waist. See those nifty pleats in front? Imagine three on each side, just like gents’ trews from the 40s. Then cuff that hem. Got it? I loved it — gray flannel trousers reincarnated for girls who’d rather wear tights. How femme! How humorous!

Yes, I wanted this wisp of modern traditionalism. I’d look smashing in it. The $650 [USD] was not exactly what deterred me though. Really, Burberry, sleeveless flannel? Don’t tell me, dears, that you mean that we should wear a turtleneck under this garment in order to keep winter’s chill from our bare arms. How very unchic. And yet, you surely don’t intend that this should be worn in the 85 degree weather so currently prevalent? Can this be wool for spring? Wool — and bare arms — for the unpredictable fall? No, I don’t think so. It’s really kind of wool for never — but so much fun.

The version I saw was belted with an exceptionally hideous, quilted faux-patent belt, much like the one above except exceptionally hideous, quilted, etc., etc.. But I quite like the simpler belt on the image above.

Image of a Burberry-Styled Maclaren Triumph Stroller

I passed on the $700 [USD] Burberry Maclaren stroller, too. A $500 [USD] premium for a Burberry cosy toes (and a black chassis) just seems stupid. Still, something interesting is going on here; it’s not your daddy’s Burberry any more. The Wall Street Journal’s got the scoop here, if you, too, are curious.

Image of a Modernistic Shopping Center

After an uneventful tour around Rittenhouse Square, I headed back past Liberty Place and gawked at the workers clotted around the entrances, ciggies in hand, casting noxious clouds across the entryways. London has joined the list of cities, like Philadelphia, that have banned indoor smoking; you can read a rather good post about that on Conrad’s Varieties.

I was pleased to see so much of the populace engaged in something other than Philadephia’s most famous outdoor sport — shooting one another. There were 406 murders in Philadelphia in 2006; on July 24 of this year, CBS News reported Philadelphia’s 236th murder of 2007. Second-hand smoke somehow seems so much safer.

Image of an Informal Campground on a City Parkway With Shopping Cart

Other denizens of the city are simply living outside. I strolled past this encampment on Philadelphia’s proud Benjamin Franklin Parkway, the boulevard that’s “oozing with culture” according to the UPenn art museum tour map. It’s also known as ‘Skid Museum Row’.

Philadelphia, that city of contrasts, is not completely devoid of cultural entertainments. There are a slew of quite good museums, and there is also (quoting the tour map)

Philadelphia’s remarkable collection of outdoor art, which also includes the LOVE statue and Oldenburg’s giant clothespin just west of city hall. Philadelphia has more public art than any city in the country with the greatest number of outdoor sculptures and murals in the U.S.

Image of Sculpture of Big Red Griders

Which inventory includes ‘Iroquois’, nestled a scant block from the aforementioned encampment. The explanatory signage says this “40 foot high painted steel [sculpture] honors Native Americans, and its central knot shape and brilliant red color also suggest a Chinese influence”.

Wow — two wildly divergent ethnicities in one. A diversity bargain if ever there were one. Frankly, I think this construction owes more to the influences of US steel and Aker American Shipping but it’s not like I’m an expert or anything.

As ever, quantity does not imply quality.

A few blocks later I’d reached my destination. I’d heard no fewer than four ambulances screaming through the streets in the scant hour I’d been walking, but seen no actual blood shed. It was a good afternoon.

Image of Clouds over the River

I met Allium and we took up our dinners and settled down by the side of the Schuylkill to dine. A rather good blues band played below us, on terrace of the Waterworks Restaurant, and the view was divine.

Train tunnel from Flickr; Burberry Stroller from Burberry; Liberty Place from Flickr; other photos mine


Bento 11 – ‘Steak’ with Pepper and Onions

Soy Steak with Red Pepper and Onions

Image of Bento with ‘Steak’ and Onions

Upper Left: Edame shu mai from Trader Joe’s (a bit heavy and not as tasty as they should have been — next time I’ll try steaming them instead of microwaving)

Upper Right: Green grapes

Lower Left: Soy beef stir-fried with onions and red peppers

Lower Right: Steamed rice with shirasu furikake