Tuesday, December 22, 2009

Stuff I Plan to Write About

Ha! I'm glad someone finds my last post funny (as marked in the checkboxes). I have to admit, if I were in a car and saw my accident happen, I might have laughed. Actually, I have kind of laughed thinking about how it must have looked. One second there's a biker over at 2 o'clock, and the next, the biker and bike seem to be getting sucked into a black hole over in the gutter...

Anyway, typing is a pain right now so I don't think I will be posting much in the next couple of weeks while the fracture heals. At which time, if I can remember anything about them, I will talk about the work Christmas party, the trips to get my wrist examined and fixed, and an upcoming Schwarzwald trip. Until then, guten Rutsch.

Friday, December 18, 2009

Black Ice

I just wiped out on my bike on the Neuenheimer Landstrasse. Damn, it's slippery out there! I thought about walking my bike home but a lot of the road was just wet. Well, this little section apparently wasn't. What really got me was that no one stopped! Cars everywhere but they just went by. I guess they saw that I was okay enough to start crawling off the road right away, then dragging my bike off, but still. There's something really lonely about hitting the pavement and no one seeming to care. I guess it would have been a traffic disaster if anyone stopped. Luckily I seem to be undamaged, except my wrist kind of hurts. Thank God. I wonder how many lives I have left now... this is not the first time black ice tried to kill me!

Tuesday, December 15, 2009

Best of 2009: Packaging

I was going to skip today's prompt, Best Packaging. Like the world needs another homage to consumerism, right? But I saw this today and had to share.

Monday, December 14, 2009

Daily Drop Cap!

I think I'm in love with the Daily Drop Cap blog, which I just discovered. Isn't this I beautiful? I found a great N too so I will have to start a post or paragraph with that letter soon.

I plan to do more of Gwen Bell's Best of 2009 prompts, but I was entertaining over the weekend (we had my uncle in town! :D ) and today I can't seem to bring up her blog to see what the prompts are! So, maybe more best of 09 later!

Thursday, December 10, 2009

Best of 2009: Album of the Year (or: The Music Post, 2009)

Today's best of 2009 prompt is Album of the Year. Who can have just one? I decided to just make this into my yearly self-indulgent music post, wherein I put up some youtube links of my favorite songs that came out in 2009. (So far. I just discovered a 2006 album yesterday that I can't stop listening to. My exposure to 2009's music is certainly not over.) I'll try to stick with one song per artist.

Animal Collective go on about providing for family in "My Girls." It reminds me of my dad because he had only daughters. :) Breakfast at Sulimay's hates it.

Other good tracks from Animal Collective this year: "Summertime Clothes" - "Brother Sport" - "Bluish" - "Lion in a Coma" - "Graze" - "What Would I Want? Sky"

There was new Dan Deacon this year! You may remember me posting his stuff before. It is not for everybody. Definitely weirder than the previous song. I'm not sure about the title of this song. I downloaded it from emusic and it gave the title of this track as "Red F" - but it was floating around the internet before the album release as "Build Voice":

Also worthwhile and even less for everybody: "Woof Woof" - "Wet Wings" - "Jack & Jill" - "Snookered"

A huge favorite of mine, Beirut, also had an album in 2009! This time he recorded with a small-town Mexican band. I didn't like it as much as his two previous albums, but it has some nice tracks, including "The Shrew":

Also check out: "The Akara"

This one I'm a little confused about. I'm not sure if the album was actually released in 2008 or 2009. Let's say 2009 for the purpose of this post. :) This song is super-catchy and accessible - The Bird and the Bee, "Love Letter to Japan":

The Bird & The Bee - Love Letter To Japan

the bird and the bee | MySpace Musikvideos

A couple more addictive tracks from the album: "My Love" - "Diamond Dave"

Now for something instrumental. I'm teetering on the scary edge of new age here - I don't know why, but the song is somehow very compelling. Weather geeks should watch this just for the video. But maybe not if you're seizure-prone. This is the Bell Orchestre - "Stripes":

I almost didn't post this one because I really don't like the video. Maybe you will, but you've been warned. I love the vocals. This is Grizzly Bear - "Two Weeks":

Also good on this album: "While You Wait for the Others" - "Foreground"

Would you like to hear someone channeling Abba? Music Go Music - "Light of Love"

Telefon Tel Aviv had a great album this year. I never really got into their previous stuff. This album I listened to over and over and it's hard to pick a track to highlight. Here's "Helen of Troy":

Also check out "Immolate Yourself" - "Mostly Translucent" - "Stay Away from Being Maybe"

I'm pretty sure I posted this one before, too. I should save my videos for the end of the year. "Family Galaxy" - Tim Exile

Also good: "Pay Tomorrow"

Can't go without posting my favorite Iowa musician! "Mutiny" - William Elliott Whitmore

Also good: "Old Devils" - "Hard Times"

There's more, but I think that's enough to bore anyone already. Until next year!

P.S. Can someone explain copyright laws to me? I'd be a rich woman if I got a dime every time I couldn't watch a video or legally download a song "in my country" because of copyright regulations.

Wednesday, December 09, 2009

Best of 2009: Challenge (or: Sewing a Quilt in Heidelberg)

I've been meaning to post about this project for a while. At first I didn't because it was for a reader and I wanted to keep it secret - then after it wasn't a secret anymore, I was neglecting the blog a little. Finally, I will share the project I spent many, many hours on during the summer!

Best Challenge: Going from not knowing how to operate a sewing machine to making a quilt
Runner-up: Passing the thesis defense

I bought a sewing machine while I was still living in Boston. At first I just wanted to make some cool cards with stitching on them. I never even got around to that - before I knew it, we were planning an international move and I wasn't thinking about doing awesome crafts anymore. When we moved, we got a flat rate on a crate to be shipped to Germany, up to a certain weight. After putting in the stuff we knew had to be shipped, it turned out there was still room to add in the sewing machine. So, we threw it in and it came to Germany. Then it sat in the closet for 2.5 years, except for when my mom came to visit and used it to hem us some curtains. Here I should note that my mom is an obscenely talented seamstress so it's all the more tragic that I had this sewing machine just sitting around and never bothered to learn to sew from the master!! It's just that working with fabric has always intimidated me. It's all floppy, not easy to work with like paper. I have the same problem with paintbrushes vs. pencils. Paintbrushes drive me mad. Still, as I have no practical hobbies (or interests in the entire world...) sewing beyond fixing buttons and hems always seemed like something I really ought to figure out.

So, when I found out a very old friend was pregnant, I wanted to do something really cool and homemade for her new baby. Embroidery sounded cool. But, the above-mentioned practicality issue was bugging me. I wanted to make something that could actually be useful, if they wanted to use it. So, I decided it was time to learn to sew, with a little embroidery added in so I could have fun too if the sewing turned out to be torture.

First - getting the fabric. I asked my mom what kind of fabric would be good for the embroidery and also work in a baby quilt. She told me to buy muslin. In German it's called Musselin and only exists in fairy tales. Every store told me to try somewhere else and then when I got there they told me to try yet somewhere else. In the US, muslin is absurdly cheap and available everywhere. So, my mom decided to just send me some. While looking for muslin, I also checked out the other fabrics for some ideas for the quilt. This is how I discovered that probably nobody under 70 ever sews in Heidelberg. The selection of fabrics is even worse than your average Jo-Ann in the US, and let's just say I was never impressed by Jo-Ann. I think out of all the fabrics I saw, there were approximately 3 I found cute or interesting, and none of them were appropriate for a baby quilt. Thank god for Etsy. I found a set of fabric that would work nicely for either gender (they didn't find out in advance) and just ordered it online. And the internet is the opposite of Heidelberg fabric stores. There's more cute fabric there than anyone could look at in a lifetime. I only wish the local places stocked things like that so I could see it in person first!

Embroidery floss I found at Kaufhof, of all places. They have Anchor floss and not the biggest selection ever, but it was good enough for this project. They also have a selection of 2 or 3 hoops (not types, actual number of available hoops) at any given time. I already had lots of needles.

The fabric arrived and first I fretted about whether or not to wash it. I wanted the quilt to be usable, so I decided I had better wash the fabric as hardcore as you would wash a quilt that a baby barfed on. The fabric was already cut into fat quarters (quarters of a yard if the yard is cut once each direction - I think) when I bought it and washing it hardcore like that really warped it and frayed the edges. Yikes! I lost some inches there and had to modify my plans a little bit. Then I fretted about cutting the warped pieces because they wouldn't be cut with the grain. I tried to cut them on the grain as much as I could. This was pointless and I'm not sure how I ever got that idea in my head. Later I had to trim them all because they weren't exactly the same. Sameness is more important than the grain. If they aren't the same it would be really hard to make up for that with the sewing machine, since you use the edge of the fabric to judge where to sew.

I sewed all my squares into little blocks of four squares. (By the way, I bought cotton thread in Munich! I hadn't checked everywhere yet, but mostly I'd only seen polyester thread here.) One giant mistake was made, but I ignored it because it was so small on the scale of mistakes I was expecting to make. I have no cabinet for my sewing machine, so I had to set it up on our dining table. Without a cabinet, the fabric always seemed to be pulling away from the needle, so I set up elaborate book piles all around to make a more even surface. I also fretted about the thread tension a lot. And it took me a long time to figure out just winding the bobbin. Really, really clueless.

Once I was sewing mostly straight lines, though, the top came together pretty quickly! I was glad I got the nice thread because it never broke. After the top was done, the search for batting could begin. This was actually not hard, because it doesn't matter what it looks like, so whatever the Pfaff quilting shop on Ploeck had was totally fine. I got cotton batting because it feels nicer than polyester - when it's inside the quilt, that is. That stuff is horrible to touch by itself! I don't know why, but I wanted to handle it about as much as I'd want to handle sandpaper. No one had touched it for a while, apparently. When the woman at the shop rolled it out to cut some off for me, a spider came running out. I also got fabric for the back at the quilting shop - it was plain and they had something acceptable - and for the binding. I read online about how you can buy binding all pre-cut and folded and stuff. I guess they didn't have that here because she just looked at me funny and cut me off some regular fabric so I could make it myself.

Putting the back and batting on was easy. I just tied the quilt with embroidery thread because there was no time to hand-quilt it and I don't have any idea how to quilt with a regular sewing machine! Plus, I actually like the sort of simple look of tying a quilt. I don't know if it was a bad idea or not, because I've never seen it done before and there may be a reason for that, but I made an x on the front of each spot where I tied it - in the back it looked like a stitch next to a knot. For the binding, I thought I was going to lose my mind folding and ironing and hand-stitching that thing on! In the end all I lost was a few skin cells that the iron hit, and I gained hella satisfaction from getting a finished product that actually looked like a quilt!! I couldn't believe it!! I actually made something useful! After the last stitch I had to run out the door to meet some friends for drinks and I took it with me because I was so amazed that I'd actually managed to pull it off. I finished it the same day the baby was born (a girl).

It doesn't look like much but just let me emphasize again that I couldn't wind a frigging bobbin when I started. I also tried new embroidery stitches that I never did before (and the process of learning is obvious from the difference in quality between the owls).


My second place challenge of the year was my thesis defense. It doesn't get first place because school crap is something we all do for years and years, so it didn't feel entirely new like the sewing did - and because it was, overall, a couple of years in the making. I never had an oral exam before so I was glad to survive and pass, though I think I could have done much better if I'd had some previous experience with the format. I got a little too conversational and not specific enough, and I should have clarified more when I was finished with my answer, or what exactly they were looking for (which was often not entirely clear, then they would accept my answer when it was only partially done and assume I didn't know the rest when I did). Still, I managed to pass and put the whole damn thing behind me. No more days spending all that time standing around Mainz Hbf waiting for another delayed train home after 10 hours of classes. I'll never go to school again.

Tuesday, December 08, 2009

Best of 2009: Blog Find

Blog find was yesterday's topic, but since today's is moment of peace, and I think my biggest moment of peace for 2009 is still to come, I'll catch up a little here. This category isn't for the best new blog of the year - just the best one that is new to you. I think I discovered these blogs within 2009!

Best Blog Find: Doctor Grumpy in the House
Runner-up: Sprite Stitch

Not sure where I came upon these two. Dr. Grumpy, a neurologist working mostly in outpatient practice, comes up with something laugh-out-loud-worthy at his job nearly every day and often several times per day. It's made me want to tune in to more medical blogs - but I know I don't have the hours to spend getting sucked into them!

Sprite Stitch showcases craft projects mostly using 8-bit video game characters - the perfect subjects for mediums like cross stitch, needlepoint, those little round plastic things, beading, quilting, etc! It's amazing how video games have filtered through culture to even these media. Very cool.

This is my 450th post.

Saturday, December 05, 2009

Best of 2009: Night Out

I'm ashamed to admit I skipped best book yesterday because I don't recall having read a complete book all year. As a kid I read everything like a maniac. All reading contests were won by me. College changed everything and completely burned me out on reading. Even for me, 2009 was a bad reading year, though. I haven't totally given it up, but this year I don't remember anything that I read in its entirety.

I did manage to spend plenty of time with friends, though, so I can do today's. Tomorrow's is best workshop or conference or something. Sounds work-related to me, so forget it. ;)

Best Night Out: Cheap-ass hotel in Colmar, France
Runner-up: They are showing Eurovision after all in Tobermory, Scotland

In Colmar, we went with three friends to a winery in late afternoon and did a wine tasting with the intention to buy lots of wine and drink it that night. We were driving, so our venue was to be somewhere at our cheap-ass hotel out in a horrible industrial/shopping district. We got slightly toasted at the tasting, had a nice supper, then returned to the hotel. There was a restaurant terrace there and they let us sit outside even though we had no intention of ordering anything, and they even chilled our wines and opened them for us. So, we sat out there all night having a generally nice time. :)

In Tobermory, the awesomeness was simply that they were showing Eurovision at the local bar. My friends had never heard of it and I kept saying maybe we could find a bar showing it because I'm kind of addicted now, and they just laughed it off, because why would they be showing something like that?? Well, they were!! And everybody was watching! Combined with a post-vindaloo spicy food high, the night was pretty cool.

Thursday, December 03, 2009

Best of 2009: Article

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This one was a bit harder. I read a lot of articles, and have so many bookmarked now that it would take me hours to go through them to figure out which ones are from this year and then find a favorite. I skimmed through all the links I posted on Facebook this year, but most are on small political or public health topics and aren't on big things that would befit a 'best' article. I found one that was a bit more broad.

Best Article: "Open Your Minds, America" - Rudy Ruiz, CNN

This is just a commentary on the American political climate, where everyone now just reads biased articles on his or her biased internet news source of choice and buys the party line. It's dull, depressing, dangerous.

For fun, more of a news story than an article, I nominate these dopes from Carroll as a runner-up, only because I grew up very close to there and damn, it's funny.

Best of 2009: Restaurant Moment

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Another catch-up because I like this prompt too. We're going back to Scotland again on this one...

Best Restaurant Moment: Mull Pottery, Tobermory, Scotland
Runner-up: Freinsheim Kulinarische Weinwanderung

Apparently scallops, bacon, and salad completely belong together. I had really been missing scallops too - I'm not sure I've ever seen them here, and in Boston they were a standard.

In Freinsheim I had Semmelknoedel with Pfifferlinge sauce while well-toasted and it was heavenly. I have been craving Pfifferlinge almost non-stop since then.

Best of 2009: Trip

Inspired yet again by the awesome No Apathy Allowed, I'm joining in on Gwen Bell's Best of 2009 series. I started 2009 with a very ominous feeling that I can't really explain. The number just struck me as bad, and it didn't help that a friend we spent New Year's with had the same feeling. True to that, a lot of crap happened in 2009. I lost my remaining two grandparents, was sick more than normal, and it was the first year I never set foot in Iowa. So, I would really like to take this opportunity to look back on the best things in the year with a few prompts so I don't get distracted back to the bad stuff. :) I have a little catch-up to do, as I don't want to skip the December 1 prompt, best trip!!

Best Trip of 2009: Scotland!
Runner-up: Stockholm

What I've learned in travelling is that nothing makes me relax more than being able to wander into a teeny tiny town that doesn't get a lot of tourism, where the cafe sells things that are really sweet and really cheap, and be able to communicate immediately* with everyone in my native language. No way would I ever limit my travel to experiences like this, but man are they rejuvenating, like going home while still being somewhere new and exciting.

Stockholm is an easy second place. So friendly, so beautiful.

*Okay, some accents were not easy. But they were still English, beloved English.

Cute Medieval German Villages

The final night of our vacation with the inlaws was spent in Dinkelsbuehl, a little walled town on the western edge of Bavaria. We wanted something relatively near Heidelberg, something that's easier to get to by car than train, and something we thought they would enjoy. What we really thought they might like is Rothenburg ob der Tauber, about 45 minutes north of Dinkelsbuehl, but we thought it would be easier and cheaper to stay in Dinkelsbuehl!

On our way there, we stopped in Rosenheim for lunch and took a few pictures. I have a friend who comes from there and always talks about what a little village it is. Hee hee. It's not small. They even have a Karstadt.

Rosenheim & Countryside Okt 09

Rosenheim wasn't terribly picturesque but it had a wedding-cakey church and a big wide pedestrian zone.

The photos aren't captioned this time. Really, our time was fleeting in these three places and I don't what most of the stuff I was looking at actually was! In Dinkelsbuehl, we were encouraged by a local to check out their Dinkelsbuehl war and peace museum, which was really a history of the town. The whole museum was full of wandering Montessori kids while we were there, whose chaperones found their inability to be considerate to other museum guests a wonderful sign of the kids' spunk and brilliance. So, we didn't really get as much out of it as we could have because we were just trying to keep from getting run over or mobbed.

Dinkelsbuehl was pretty, but there wasn't much for pedestrian zones, which was the only drawback. We were there only a few hours before running off to spend a few hours in Rothenburg.

Dinkelsbuehl Okt 09

Rothenburg ob der Tauber Okt 09

I had some reservations about Rothenburg, probably the most tourist-trodden location in Germany, maybe even ahead of Neuschwanstein. Germans warned me that it was like Disneyland - no one really living within the walls of the medieval town, existing only for tourism. The oft-cited idea that it was untouched by WWII is also incorrect - about 40% of the original town was destroyed in the war and had to be rebuilt.

So, I was surprised by a few things in Rothenburg!!
  • It was much bigger than I expected. Thus, it does not feel that touristy because you can slip off into a less-popular corner and be on your own.
  • People do indeed live inside the walls. We saw cars parked in places that destroyed the cuteness of the scene and laundry hanging on lines. It is actually still a place where real people live; it is not Disneyland.
  • It really does have a little something that rises above the hundreds of other adorable medieval German towns - it's just so large, so consistently cute throughout, and it has an unbelievable number of towers. This leads me to an important tourist tip.
Important Tourist Tip

Do not agree to meet your fellow travellers at the tower!!! With four people, we were waiting at 3 towers. (Damon and I were at the right one, of course. ;) )

So, at least in mid-October on a cold weekday, Rothenburg doesn't really deserve the sniffing-at it got from a lot of Germans I talked to. It was pleasant, with a lot of places to go, a lot of interesting buildings and squares, and a nice view out over the Tauber from the edge of town.