Saturday, December 17, 2011

It's My Blogiversary!

The Tortoise and The Hare, bronze on brick, by Nancy Quint Schon.
Copley Square, Boston, Massachusetts. Photo by Wally Gobetz.
One year ago today, I began a blog about the slow movement. My goals were to learn more about how the ideas of the slow movement are being applied in a variety of disciplines, and find ways to apply them in my personal and professional lives. I was embarking on a two-year sabbatical to refine my ideas and aesthetic, with the goal of rewriting my business plan and relaunching my sustainable interior decorating practice as a slow lifestyle business. I wrote,

This lifestyle blog is about slow design, slow homes, slow fashion, slow food, and slow living - and the Big Idea behind them that just might save the world.

I never did really explain that 'might save the world' part, did I? The biggest problems facing the world in the next century are climate change and environmental degradation. We collectively need to change our lifestyles in a holistic way, and stop (literally) burning through carbon-based fuels and other resources. We need to dial back on consumerism and materialism, and reconnect with our communities and ecosystems. We need to do it because we want to, because it feels good and looks great and has all kinds of other benefits, not because we've been guilt-tripped into it. We need to do it because it's part of the 'good life' that we aspire to living. As part of a community of designers, makers, builders, and writers for whom environmental and ethical considerations are synonymous with good design, it is my goal to help build a slower, more sustainable world, to lose the silly granola stereotypes and political baggage, and create a covetable, sensuous, hopeful version of environmental consciousness. That's where the slow movement has an edge on environmentalism (which, let's face it, can be kind of a bummer) - it reaches an audience outside of eco-geeks like me. The slow movement celebrates craftsmanship, tradition, community, and beauty. Slow living is living locally, sustainably, ethically, and authentically. Slow is beautiful. Slow is personal. Slow is stylish. Slow is smart. Slow is sexy.

In short, the slow movement has the potential to be world-changing. I feel so fortunate to have started writing about it and incorporating its principles into my life just as it began to achieve widespread attention. It is really exciting to watch the monthly slow news roundup growing as more blogs about aspects of the slow movement emerge and more mainstream media do articles about it, and it's fascinating to watch the design innovations and new ideas that are coming out of the movement.

In the past year, I have written 35 articles and 11 slow news summaries. I'm so grateful to those of you who have been reading. According to Blogger's stats, you have visited from Canada (18%), the United States (60%), the United Kingdom (7%), Australia (4%), and other countries (11%) including Germany, France, Denmark, Russia, Ukraine, Romania, Puerto Rico, Brazil, Argentina, Chile, Saudi Arabia, India, Japan, and China. (Wow.) About 8% of you are reading on mobile devices of one kind or another. Several of you have reached out on Twitter or by email to speak kindly of what I've written or offer words of encouragement, or shared my writing on Google+ or Pinterest or Twitter (or even your own blogs!), and it means so much to me. Thank you.

The most popular search terms that bring many of you here have surprised me a little (variants on 'Tangled birthday', 'Cardboard Rocket Ship', and 'Project 333'). Here are my ten favourite posts from the past year:
My goals for Sustainable Slow Stylish for the next year are:

1. Make It Prettier. I know my writing style is a bit wordy and academic, and that writing as inspiration finds me works better for me than having a set blog schedule. So, I'll never make a good professional blogger - and I'm perfectly okay with that. However, there are things I can do to make the blog more visually appealing, starting with a redesign (which will also make it easier to navigate), and learning how to take better photographs.

2. Make It Myself. I already have some craft and sewing projects on the go, and several more in the planning stages - I'm terrible about collecting the supplies I need then not following through and finishing the project. However. I really should take a few extra minutes to document and write up my DIY projects - not only so I have blog content, but as a reminder for myself of what I accomplished and how I did it.

3. Make It A Party. Last spring I partnered with a friend to organize a slow-fashion-inspired fundraising party, which will be back next spring as a gender-inclusive sit-down dinner. I have some bicycle event plans up my sleeve, too.

4. Make A Move. We love the house we're in, but we need a home where all the bedrooms are on the same floor and we can see the kids playing the garden while we're working in the kitchen. So, we've been house-hunting in our neighborhood for a home with a floor-plan that works better for our young family, and in preparation for that I have been gradually decluttering and getting organized. I'll be documenting that process along the way, and talking about choosing and decorating a slow home.

5. Make It My Business. I need to get down to brass tacks and write that business plan and figure out how, precisely, I'll incorporate the principles of slow design into my work. I do know that I'm disillusioned with the planned obsolescence that many interior decor business models rely upon; I'm still figuring out how that will change the services I offer or objects I create.

6. Keep It Real. While I haven't ever been dishonest in my writing, I tend not to talk much about my personal life. I suffer from mild depression (who doesn't these days?), and most of my family and my social circle live thousands of miles from me. So sometimes, finding the motivation to write or declutter or make things or exercise or volunteer or make new friends or network is more difficult than it should be. Pushing myself to be a superwoman does not help. Reading blog posts from perky twentysomethings with no responsibilities or baggage that wax poetic about the power of positive thinking does not help. Sometimes I tell myself chocolate helps, but I know I'm lying (*grin*). It's easy to beat yourself up for being human and having a bad day, it's easy to let your idea of normalcy be skewed by the carefully-styled images and how-to articles found on most websites and print magazines, and it's easy to self-censor and self-censure. It's harder to open up and be real. It's harder to be kind to yourself and silence your inner critic. But I think writing about my reality, instead of a fantasy version of slow living, is important. One of the dangers in the aspirational version of magazine and blog writing is that it can make things seem unattainable and exclusive. That's fine, if your goal is to market high-end items to a small number of people based on elitism. However. I don't believe the slow movement is only for those who who have cash and spare time to burn. I think our lives can be authentic and sensible at the same time as they're sensuous and stylish. Watch me prove it.

Thank you again for reading!  

Thursday, December 15, 2011

Slow Christmas: Vintage Artificial Trees

I've written about the great green Christmas tree debate before. The current consensus - brilliantly summarized by this pros-and-cons post at Simple Organic - is that live trees are the most planet-friendly and healthy choice (especially if they're organic and you can replant them). In North America, live trees have been more popular than artificial trees ever since the Christmas tree tradition became widespread. However, artificial trees remain the best choice for families with environmental allergies (such as to mold and pollen), and if you already own an artificial tree, experts say you should use it for at least ten years to minimize its environmental impact, and preferably more - unless it has issues with offgassing, lead content, or electrical problems.

If an artificial tree is the best choice for your lifestyle, remember that even the Charlie Brown trees at thrift shops can look fantastic with a little TLC and the addition of garland and floral picks to fill in gaps created by damage - and that made-in-China PVC trees are reported to have issues with lead content in addition to offgassing that lovely new-plastic smell. With that in mind, I thought it would be fun to take a look at the types of vintage trees that are out there.

Tabletop feather tree, via amlibrarian on flikr.
Bigger feather trees often have forked lower branches, with red 'holly' berries or candle holders on the branch tips.

A full-size white feather tree. From 1900-1915 the vogue for all-white trees with silver accents actually led to many Victorian-era glass and metal ornaments having their coloured paints washed off. Via
Feather trees were initially made as a response to deforestation in Germany, starting in the late 1800s, using dyed goose or turkey feathers, and sometimes silver or lead tinsel mixed with feathers or on its own. The branches on feather trees are straight and widely spaced (to reduce the risk of fires from the candles that were originally used to light them), which makes them ideal for displaying collections of large ornaments - but can also make them challenging to decorate. After World War I imposed difficulties on the import of German-made goods, feather trees were also manufactured in Britain. When most people think of antique trees, they think of feather trees, partly because American-made reproductions have been available since the 1980s. Feather trees are mostly sold in table-top sizes, because they're mostly being sold to ornament collectors who are following the early-to-mid-Victorian custom of decorating a separate small tabletop tree for each family member (or each themed collection of ornaments) - oh, and because they're kind of expensive.

1960s flocked tabletop bottle brush tree, via Chippy!-Shabby!
The 2007 reproduction 58-inch bottle brush tree by Kuno Prey
is great fun partly because it scales up (WAY up) the proportions of the 1930s tabletop versions.
It looks modern and minimalist, but it's actually a throwback. Love it! via Casa Sugar
Most bottle brush trees for sale now are miniatures or wreaths, but starting in the 1930s, table-top and full-size versions were the US-made replacement for the German-made feather trees. The first manufacturer of bottle brush trees, Addis Brush Company (the American affiliate of the British company that invented the toothbrush), supposedly used the same equipment as used to make toilet bowl brushes to make the tree branches - a fact live-tree proponents take such delight in repeating that I wonder about its truth. With no shortage of real trees in North America, bottle brush trees were mostly exported to timber-starved Britain. The wire used for them was heavier, so bottle brush trees are said to have been less fragile than feather trees and better able to accommodate heavier decorations. Initially they were made of sisal, but cellulose and viscose bristles were also used, so sometimes they're listed as 'early plastic' trees by dealers. This is the kind of tree I remember my maternal grandparents using, with soft 'needles' and wire branches that actually branched and were fuller and more closely spaced than in earlier feather and bottle-brush trees.

Aluminum pom-pom tabletop tree, from Martha Stewart Living Dec 2009.
Martha Stewart's done a great article on the aluminum trees that debuted in the late 1950s - although it misses that Addis also invented them. Aluminum trees were designed to be sparsely decorated, and were sold with rotating stands and lit with coloured floodlights. They were sold alongside bottle brush trees made in the same way as before, but with more modern materials like vinyl (the PVC and tinsel trees sold today are still mostly made using a variant of the bottle brush technique). Flocked bottle-brush trees in unusual colours (including black) were introduced in the 1960s - but the flame-retardant flocking used tended to yellow badly, so it's hard to find these in good condition. I'm not sure I'd want to bring those flame retardants into my home anyway.

By the 1970s, there were also injection-molded plastic trees; my parents had one of these, with brown hard plastic for the trunk and branches and green soft plastic needle clusters that slipped onto knobs on the branches. We decorated it well into the 1990s, mocking the telltale molding lines and flaps of extra plastic on the needles, and we found that by piling an exuberant amount of handcrafted ornaments onto the tree we could distract from its obvious fakeness. I can't find a closeup photo of these anywhere - I must ask my parents for an old photo of theirs - but you know how Playmobil make the plants that come with their hard-plastic playsets? Imagine that, writ large in soft plastic. Connoisseurs of kitch would love such trees, I think. However, the softness of the plastic probably meant it was PVC with a fair bit of phthalates and lead added, so it's probably just as well that these type of artificial tree are no longer in our homes.

I must have missed some artificial tree types; there must be more than three. I have also seen one reference to early tabletop trees made only of wood - if only I could find it again! - and I'd love to think that some of the stunning wooden trees now appearing on design blogs are descendants of that tradition, if it existed. My paternal grandmother preferred a tabletop tree made of driftwood she collected at the beach and hung with garlands, and I'm sure many families have similar traditions of decorating a home-made artificial tree or large potted plant.

Did you grow up with an artificial tree? What did you love (or hate) about it?

Friday, December 9, 2011

Using Trend Colours in a Slow Home

By now, if you're in the design, decor, or fashion biz, or you follow anyone who is, you'll have heard about the other day's announcement that Pantone's Color of The Year for 2012 is Tangerine Tango. You know, that colour we called burnt orange in the seventies, and fashionistas call Hermes orange? We'll be seeing a lot of it for the next few months.

(Here's why it's called Hermes orange, from eBay via Pinterest.)

You may think there's no place for a trend colour like red-orange in a Slow Home, particularly a colour that psychologists tell us is associated with cheap goods, and that a third of women say is their least favourite colour (source). However, orange is also cheerful, energetic, and youthful, and this tone has a nostalgic midcentury-and-seventies feeling. It's surprisingly versatile as an accent colour.  

As the complementary colour of blue, a touch of it has the ability to make a navy blue or turquoise room sing.

Library for a home in South Hampton by Porter Design Company,
via Effortless Style. I'm dying to do a navy blue room.
From Architectural Digest's June 2011 issue, via Live Like You.
With greens and yellows it reads as fresh and summery.

Christmas citrus via Tobi Fairley
With reds and pinks it's a bit bohemian and exotic.

suzani chair at Black & Spiro, Brisbane, Australia
via Absolutely Beautiful Things
With grey or geige walls, it brings much-needed warmth.

via Black and White {Side by Side} - okay, this is yellow orange, but you get the idea
In a neutral room with lots of wood (which is categorized as orange on the colour wheel), 
it brings out the wood's beautiful grain.

Kitchen by bright designlab via Design*Sponge. Mmmm, walnut and marble.
As I said before in my post On Trends and Slowness, it's human, even desirable, to crave novelty and want to bring trends into our homes and wardrobes to keep them from feeling stale. A slow home ought to feel timeless, but not stuck in a time warp. The trick is to incorporate trends (like the vibrant colours of the last five years) without treating our stuff as disposable. Luckily, trend colours run on a (roughly) thirty-year cycle. Using a handful of carefully-chosen, locally-made, handmade, sustainable, or vintage pieces that can be swapped out or repainted is an ideal way bring our homes into the present.

Penguin paperbacks via My Villa Life
So, give Tangerine Tango a whirl with a pile of old Penguin paperbacks or a bowl of Mandarin oranges. If you love how it looks with the things you already have, you can easily bring in a bigger hit of it with a great vintage fiberglass shell chair or new textiles. If you hate it, consider using the same strategy to bring one of the other current trend colours into your slow home!

Wednesday, November 23, 2011

Monthly Slow News Summary: November 2011

Fab local blogger Jen from City and Baby formally invited her Edmonton readers to
shop at all the fabulous local independently-owned retailers this holiday season.
Coincidentally, November is Shop Local First month, and sponsor
Live Local are Edmonton's best resource for supporting local businesses.
On Slow Food:

I absolutely love this sidebar image from Lexie's Kitchen,
a website about cooking without most of the common allergens.
Found via Pinterest.

On Slow Fashion:

On Slow Design and Slow Home:
  • Historic Preservation Aligns With Green Renovation. And with slow design.
  • Sustainable lighting guru James Bedell has released his book Losing Edison, which walks you through lighting your home beautifully without sacrificing your eco-values. It's written with the average homeowner in mind, but I think a lot of interior decorators will also find it valuable.
  • My new favourite blog Slow Your Home gave us nine great reasons to have a slow home. (I'm not sure I agree that the minimalism or voluntary simplicity that she advocates elsewhere on her blog are prerequisites of having a slow home, but she certainly makes a persuasive argument for a slow home being decluttered and organized.)
  • My Green Birmingham posted a great interview with Slow Home Studio's John Brown.
  • Spain-based British interior designer Susanna Cots muses about the ideas of slow design on her blog. Brilliant stuff.
  • Spanish-language blog Monografica also discussed the ideas of Alistair Fuad-Luke about slow design in Elogio de la lentitud (In Praise Of Slowness). (I love that Chrome comes with a translation button.)
  • Zoe Saint-Paul from SlowMama wrote a great piece about the tiny house movement.
  • Speaking of sustainable home renos, EcoSalon have found the world's sexiest programmable thermostat. (Don't worry, that link is completely safe for work.)
  • The City of Vancouver's new Green Homes Program will require newly-built single-family homes and duplexes to not only meet minimum energy-efficiency, water-efficiency, and air-quality standards, but will also "provide the homeowner with the ability to easily install roof-mounted solar energy systems and electric vehicle charging systems in the future". Sweet!
  • The Strip Appeal design competition (to find ways to retrofit and reinvent older, small-scale strip malls to rejuvenate both the mini-malls and their neighborhoods) got some interesting coverage in the Edmonton Journal and the National Post. I love the shipping container pop-up-shop concept profiled in the EJ article, and the NP's point about immigrant communities turning strip malls into community meeting spots full of specialty shops and restaurants is borne out by the "Little India" area of strip malls on Edmonton's 34th Avenue. I can't wait to see the rest of the ideas that come out of this competition.
  • On a related note, the Atlantic had a fascinating post on the 19 Building Types That Caused The Recession. You might not agree completely with the thesis that the overbuilding of suburbia was responsible for the economic collapse, but anyone who is interested in place-making and urban planning will find the actual list of real estate products we need to rethink and suggested alternative building types really interesting.
  • The Wall Street Journal published a very slow-home excerpt from Deborah Needleman's "The Perfectly Imperfect Home": 10 Odd, Yet Essential, Elements Of Style. Please, Santa, put it in my stocking.
  • Here are two brilliant slow-design timepieces that have come across my radar: The Present, a wildly-successful Kickstarter-exclusive product by Brooklyn's Scott Thrift that shows the time of year instead of the time of day; and the ingenious 365 Knitting Clock by Norwegian designer Siren Elise Wilhelmsen (shown below) which makes time tangible by continuously knitting a tube at a rate of 2 metres per year. 
365 Knitting Clock, by Siren Elise Wilhelmsen, via.
On Slow Travel:
  • Nomadic Matt discusses Renting An Apartment While Travelling
  • Hubby and I are starting to plan our next big trip (which won't be for at least a couple of years), and we're thinking England (where we both have family history to explore and many museums we'd love to visit). So I'm really hoping that when we swing through Cornwall to have pints at pubs my forebears once owned, we can fit in an overnight stay at EcoSalon find The Scarlet. And maybe a spa treatment and a swim in the Atlantic.
  • Slightly closer to home is the LEED-Platinum-certified Bardessono resort in Napa Valley's Yountville. Winery bike tour, anyone?

On Slow Living:

On Sustainability:
  • This. Can we stop arguing about whether anthropogenic climate change is real and get on with finding solutions to it yet? No? Sigh.
  • Related: this amazing video showing two centuries of global warming, from 1800 to the present, from the same research group via The Guardian.
  • Meanwhile a draft summary of the newest IPCC report obtained by the Associated Press is saying weather-related disasters are likely to become more common as the planet warms.
  • EcoSalon interviewed The Story Of Stuff's Annie Leonard, who spoke last week at the University of Alberta. Lucky audience! (This one is a must-read. I'll be testing you on it. Seriously.)
  • Unless you've been avoiding the news altogether, you know that the protests over the Keystone XL bitumen pipeline and the recent decision to delay its construction while alternative routes are researched have been dominating headlines for a couple of months. GOOD posted a fantastic summary of what protesters should work toward next; meanwhile Canadian activists (and politicians) are switching their focus to the proposed Northern Gateway pipeline from the Oilsands through the Canadian Rockies to the British Columbia coast.

Thursday, November 17, 2011

Slow Pastime: Genealogy

Since my teens, I've had an interest in learning about my family history. I'm fortunate to come from regions and families that are rich in records and fairly well-documented (at least for the male ancestors), so there is a lot of primary and secondary genealogical source material to work with. However, when I began, nobody had researched the families of most of the women in my family's ancestry, and there were a handful of mysteries: conflicting stories about the parentage of children who were adopted, whispers of an unsolved murder, and rumours of kissing cousins hidden deep in our family tree. Solving those mysteries, and tracing my husband's family (about whom we knew little) back a few extra generations through census and military records, has been one of my most satisfying hobbies.

Martha Stewart Living have a free downloadable PDF for a 7-generation fan chart. via Pinterest.
Researching family history and genealogy is also an inherently Slow activity. By documenting your family history, you are creating an heirloom of sorts, that you will share with other family members and hand on to your children; and you are creating a deeper connection to places where your family has lived (perhaps even planning trips to see those places yourself). Often, people become close friends with their distant cousins or people with similar research interests who they meet through their research. The research process itself can require a lot of patience and persistence, once you've exhausted the initial connections to information that already exists online - which can easily get you really deep into your family's history, if you're lucky enough to have a family that has already been researched (The first couple of days I spent exploring my family tree online took me back to 1464 on one branch of the family, and another branch supposedly traces back to Geoffrey Chaucer, although there are some links there that really need verification.). Also, the latest genealogical software and the trends toward record digitization and cloud data storage are conspiring to make family history research ever more accessible and immediately rewarding to casual hobbyists. That means now is a great time to get started on your family tree (especially since family gatherings during holidays like Thanksgiving and Christmas are great opportunities to ask your relatives any questions you need answered!). Personally, I'm a fan of the Family Tree Maker software and the / / subscription websites for most online research purposes, but there are lots of free resources out there to help you with your research, and lots of genealogists who are blogging about research strategies and resources. I won't list them here - that's what Google is for - but the Library and Archives Canada website has a comprehensive guide that's both a great place to start as a beginner, and a good reference with links to practically every major website and society.

For the past couple of weeks, I have been working on two tasks. With Remembrance Day on my mind, I decided to look at all the guys in my family tree who served in World Wars One and Two, to see if I could add documentation of their service using these tips from Library and Archives Canada. I was able to add a half-dozen Canadian Expeditionary Force records so far, but most of my family were in the Navy and the Merchant Marine, so I'm still figuring out where exactly their records are held. This can be tricky for Canadians, since the records are split between Canada and the UK, and some of them burned in the Blitz.

My other task has been trying to track down the family of my husband's great-great-grandmother, about whom I knew only what was documented after her marriage in 1879. She's the only Scottish ancestor we've found in our tree, so adding her story to our family history will not only fill in a missing female branch, but create a connection to another country and its history. Family stories say that Christy married her husband, who was a gunner in the British army, as a result of a Lonely Hearts column in a newspaper. I knew her approximate date and place of birth:
Christie (or Christy) Peckham, nee MacFarlane (or McFarlane or McPharlane),
born about 1844, or Sept 1846, or 8 Sept 1844 (depending on which census record you believe), in South Cove, Cape Breton, Nova Scotia (according to family records),
Scottish, Protestant (Methodist or Presbyterian, depending on the census).

All the usual online searches were coming up blank, so I needed to use a more old-school approach. 

First I figured out where, exactly, South Cove is, thanks to an 1885 history of the area that's been put online by the Google Books people and a little hunting on Google Maps (thanks, Google). It turns out that South Cove is in Victoria County, southwest of Baddeck on the south side of St Patrick's Channel on Bras d'Or Lake. I also learnt from the 1885 history of the county that most of the Scottish residents along the Channel spoke Gaelic as their first language, and weren't fluent English speakers (the historian had relayed this information as a way of excusing his very short entry on the area).

Once I knew the family's location, I started looking at the online lists of cemetary inscriptions to try to find the MacFarlane families. There was a cluster of MacFarlane grave sites in Boularderie, and another in Orangedale, but both those cemetaries could be too far from South Cove for a Victorian-era burial. I made a note of the names I found in case they'd be handy later on.

The next step was to look at the 1881 and 1871 census forms for the area to find probable families. South Cove itself wasn't identified in the census, so I needed to figure out which district it was in. I ended up spending a few days' worth of my free time gradually reading the original-copy images of all the census forms for Victoria county for 1881 before I found the right district: Little Narrows. Little Narrows is just west of South Cove on the channel, and the high proportion of Mi'kmaq surnames listed in the district (compared with others which were overwhelmingly Scottish) is consistent with Washabuck being nearby South Cove. There were two multi-generational households of McFarlanes living side-by-side listed, and (as I had suspected) the transcriber had misread the entries, so they were entered as having the surname Farlane. No wonder the families weren't showing up in the search engine results! (This seems to be a common problem for the Mc and Mac surnames, since many of them in the census forms I read had been entered by the transcriber as if the Mc was just a middle initial M instead of part of the surname. This is why it's important to take a look at the original copy instead of relying on transcriptions.)

Next I compared the list of family members from 1871 to 1881, and sure enough, an adult child named Christy was present in 1871 but absent in 1881, and was very close to the right age to be our Christy. Eureka! Based on the census, her parents are Murdo and Mary McFarlane, both born in Nova Scotia, and Murdo's parents are Donald and Christy McFarlane, both born in Scotland. They would have emigrated around the time of the Clearances.

This is pretty decent circumstantial evidence that I have found the right family, but not absolute proof. The next steps are to enter the information for this family into my family tree, then follow up any 'hints' the software gives me - and to look for confirmatory information. I'm hoping that one of the decendants of Christy's siblings or cousins are also working on their family tree, and will be able to provide confirmatory evidence. I also hope to make a trip to the area around Baddeck (where my husband and I honeymooned, coincidentally) the next time I'm in Nova Scotia to take some photos and touch base with the local historical society to find out what they can tell me.

PS: Library and Archives Canada is facing funding cuts and mandate changes that dramatically limit the ability of the national archive to preserve and provide public access to Canadian historical and genealogical documents. Read more and take action here.

PPS: I'll tell you more about the kissing cousins and the murder mystery in a future post, I promise. Sorry to tease!

Sunday, October 16, 2011

Slow Food: A Baker In The Family

One of the great rewards of baking for yourself is knowing exactly what ingredients are in your food; you can choose organic, unbleached, whole-grain, and locally-grown flours. You can compensate for special dietary needs, like our household's need to be completely peanut- and nut-free. You can get adventurous and experiment with loaves usually not found at your local bakery.

rustic whole grain sourdough loaf
garlic and French onion ciabatta
whole wheat cheese and mustard loaf
green tea sweet buns

If you're as lucky as I am, you have a partner who does it for you, just for fun, every weekend, and the only drawback is the occasional need to clean sourdough snot starter out of the sink. My husband finds it relaxing and is becoming fairly accomplished as a baker, as you can see from the photos above of his work. He's particularly proud of his green tea sweet buns, which were inspired by the ones we ate on our trip to Japan and adapted from a regular bread roll recipe, and the pretzels, which took him forever to perfect. His beer pretzel recipe was posted on his blog a while back.
Today is Blog Action Day 2011, and the topic is food - not slow food, but hunger and famine. I'm not going to write extensively about it; I just wanted to express gratitude for how extraordinarily fortunate we are as North Americans when it comes to our food security. We are blessed to even be able to nitpick over where our food comes from. I also wanted to point out that the slow food movement isn't as divorced from food insecurity as you might think, and link out to a few great posts from today.

{Food insecurity is defined magnificently in the Red Cross UK video in this BAD11 post - please go watch it. 
Agencies like the Red Cross who are working to increase the resilience of at-risk communities need our unwavering support.} 

By growing and making your own food, and supporting local farmers and CSAs and farmers markets and grocery delivery services, and going to locally-owned restaurants where the chefs specialize in local ingredients, you actually help to ensure the food security of your community should hard times ever come. You help to control the global rise in food prices. Also, by reducing the amount of food you are importing from elsewhere, you reduce your food's carbon footprint. By supporting slow food projects in other communities - like the projects championed in this blog post - you bring those benefits to developing and at-risk nations. Choosing slow food is a small step in the right direction, but cumulatively our choices can make a huge difference.

Wednesday, October 5, 2011

Monthly Slow News Summary: October 2011

On Slow Food:

via Cracked: "That loaf and the chopping block have an equal wood content."

On Slow Travel:

On Slow Fashion:

On Slow Living:

via Simple Organic

On Slow Design:

  • Also shown at London Design Festival was Lies-Marie Hoffmann's "Homage To The Elm Trees" (found via Inhabitat). What a stunning example of slow design! The butterfly joints make me weak-kneed - and wouldn't you love to see something similar made from the boulevard trees your city has lost to disease?

Sunday, October 2, 2011

Slow Fashion: A Working Vintage Wardrobe

It's October, and that means the thrift shops that don't usually have older vintage clothing will pull iconic pieces out of their storage and hang them for sale in their costume section. I can see why - sometimes older clothes can look very costumey - but styled with modern pieces, or even vintage pieces from other eras, they look chic instead. Older pieces also usually have the advantage of having been carefully constructed by skilled seamstresses in unionized North American workshops from high-quality materials.

I'm starting to build a respectable wardrobe of basic vintage pieces to mix with my modern clothing. So far for accessories, I have a great navy blue '50s frame bag, a porkpie hat and a wool felt beret, a solid collection of brightly-coloured '20s-to-'70s bakelite and lucite bangles, and some older necklaces and brooches that came my way from my mom and grandmothers. Most of my 'vintage' clothes are less authentic: a 90s-repro mod dress that looks fab with leggings, some sweet velvet or tweed blazers of indeterminate age, the 30s-style knit accordion pleat skirt and 40s-esque high-waisted trousers I bought at Winners this week. When I'm thrifting, I mostly shop for my kids (because I have them with me), so my daughter has a much more impressive collection than I do (with her 60s and 70s sundresses, embroidered Portuguese peasant blouse, full-circle square dancers' skirt trimmed with ricrac, and pink multilayer tulle petticoat). However, the other day I scored these two beauties:

...a Canadian-union-made Edwardian-style ruff-neck puffed-sleeve blouse that can be worn as intended, or back-to-front for an interesting keyhole effect, probably made in the 1970s; and a 1960s-or-70s-era full-length swiss dot slip. Both are super soft poly-cotton blends. I think I'll try to find a way to wear them to today's Tweed Ride. (Yes, it's hours away and I have no clue what I am wearing for it!) (Update: I ended up not wearing these because they're better suited to warm weather - I'll keep them in mind for the planned springtime Tweed seersucker social.)

To make all of these part of my working wardrobe, of course, I need to actually find ways to wear them for everyday, as well. Of course there's a whole world of vintage fashion blogs out there to explore for inspiration, and I'm just starting to dive into it. Here are a handful of resources I think I'll find pretty useful; the first few talk more about classic vintage shapes and how they were worn back-in-the-day, and most of the rest talk more about fitting them into a modern wardrobe. (I've updated this list as I've found more great information; newly added links are in italics.)

Wednesday, September 28, 2011


I suppose it was inevitable - like many others in the blogging world, I have become a bit obsessed with Pinterest. (I blame Zoe from SlowMama for introducing me to it.) Who knew that collecting bookmarks could be so sticky and addictive? Part of the appeal is that it's so visual - it really is a digital inspiration board - and part of it is the ability to file things by category. Seeing what your friends are reading is always pretty nifty, but you can also browse through the feed of everything being pinned - handy if you like to trend-spot. It can also be a form of self-exploration to create a pinboard full of random things that inspire you, then look for themes among them.

For instance, I've found that I have an incredible soft-spot for cottagey whitewashed timber walls, nautical decor, and floor-to-ceiling gallery walls.

Of course I've also created some great pinboards on aspects of the slow movement, and a Slow Home inspiration board.

There are some downsides to plugging in to the hive-mind on sites like Pinterest, though. It's easy to spend too much time on it, and ABC Dragoo has written previously about how easily bloggers can lose their unique voice if they do a lot of reblogging - and the same is true with your visual input in many other fields. If you are a creative, you'll reach a point where you need to disconnect from all the other great work happening out there in the wide world in order to make things that are original and unique.

However. I think if you use it with awareness, manage your time a bit, and install a 'pin this' button on your browser so you can bookmark the inspirational stuff you find on the rest of the Internet and keep your boards fresh, it can be a really useful site. As an exercise to prove this, I created a pinboard for coolness emerging from the many tweets and blog posts from the London Design Festival this week - mostly things that weren't yet on Pinterest (or at least not easily findable with their keyword search). It will be interesting to see whether anyone else finds that pinboard useful (I guess I'd measure that by looking at the number of repins). It has already helped me to focus on what is new in design and inspired me to push myself in my own work.

I'd also suggest that if you blog about topics that are of interest to Pinterest users, you should look at your sites stats. You may be delighted to see (as I was) that a couple of your older blog posts are getting more visits than usual, thanks to a reader pinning them. It'll be interesting to see if Pinterest use becomes part of the standard advice on website promotion in the not-too-distant future.

As it happens, Pinterest also just launched their new look today. I was going to show you a couple of before-and-after-the-redesign screenshots, but I didn't get anything screencapped in time (whoops). You'll just have to take my word for it that it looks a bit cleaner and prettier now.

Follow Me on Pinterest

Slow Making, Slow Craft, and Slow Cloth

There are a growing number of artisans who are applying the slow movement's principles to the world of crafts, and I'd like to draw a little attention to their work and their writing.

Australian blog Slow Making have been intermittently publishing in-depth posts since 2006 on topics from sourcing wood to printmaking to philosophical musings on the withered role of the seamstress in our society - it's a truly fascinating read. Their Manifesto is:
"1. To strive for appropriate excellence in the making process.2. To make objects that enhance the life of the user.3. To know the origins of our materials, ensuring that they respect the country and the communities who produced or harvested them, and are from sustainable sources.4. To make objects that will last, can be easily repaired when necessary and are made using materials and processes that do not harm the makers, the community or the environment.5. To deal with our co-workers, clients, suppliers and sellers in an ethical and fair manner.6. To foster, utilise and pass on skills that enhance the making process.7. To enjoy and relish the way of slow making."
The travelling exhibit Taking Time: Craft and the Slow Revolution at their last venue,
via Making A Slow Revolution.
Other Slow proponents from the world of fine craft are more explicit (as per the principles of slow design) in discussing the mindfulness, localness, interactiveness, and community-building aspects of their work, in addition to the temporal and qualitative aspects of their process. All of these figured in a travelling exhibit from Birmingham's Craftspace entitled Taking Time: Craft and the Slow Revolution, curated by Helen Carnac, which wrapped in June 2011 and was followed in July by a Slow Summit with slowLab's Alastair Fuad-Luke in July. The blog that chronicles the exhibit proposal and the reflections of several of the contributing artists is well worth reading. Everyone associated with that project seem to use the term "slow craft" preferentially.

There is also a community of slow makers in the textile world who have adopted the term "slow cloth" for their work; Elaine Lipson of Red Thread Studio has a fantastic definition in her "10 Qualities Of Slow Cloth" in her sidebar. I won't quote it here, but she definitely speaks my language: joy, contemplation, skill, history, community, diversity, quality. I also recommend you check out her article on slow cloth for HandEye magazine, and the Slow Cloth group on Facebook for ongoing discussions.

The slow movement seems like a natural fit for anyone who is immersed in a life where process and product are intimately connected - so I'm actually a little surprised that I didn't find more artisans talking about the slow movement in connection to their work when I went looking. Did I miss a term that's being used instead?