Sunday, April 8, 2018

My Ghibli education.

Update: It turned out the USB Pet Rock I talked about last week was, in fact, an April Fool's joke. It's just as well. I'm not sure I need more tchotchkes.

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I suspect if you mention Studio Ghibli to most Americans, you'll get a blank look in return. But the movie studio is famous in Japan, as well as among American fans of Japanese anime (pronounced AN-ih-may). Founded in 1985 by directors Hayao Miyazaki and Isao Takahata, it has released 21 animated feature films. The studio went on hiatus a few years back when Miyazaki retired, but he has since come out of retirement to direct a new film called How Do Your Live? It's due for release in 2020.

However, this past week, Takahata died at the age of 82.

My daughters Kat and Amy have been fans of Studio Ghibli's work since they watched My Neighbor Totoro at a friend's house when they were kids. Recently, they've been purchasing Blu-Rays of their favorites, and since I'd only seen a couple of the studio's films, I've been watching them along with the girls.

Although Disney has the rights to release these movies on disc in the United States, these are not Disney-type films -- and not just because of their distinctive animation style. Some are kiddie movies -- My Neighbor Totoro and Ponyo come immediately to mind -- but in many cases, the story lines are richer and more complex than your average Disney flick. And while the protagonists are often youngsters, the movies can certainly be enjoyed by adults.

Tonight, for instance, we watched Castle in the Sky, Studio Ghibli's first movie, directed by Miyazaki and produced by Takahata. A young girl falls falls from the sky into the arms of an engineer's apprentice. The girl, Sheeta, wears a magical crystal that protects her. That crystal is the McGuffin that everyone is after -- the military, a family of pirates, and a shady fellow who may or may not be working with the government -- because it's a link to a legendary floating castle called Laputa. Lots of hair-raising action ensues, much of it high in the sky. Think of it as a cross between Indiana Jones and steampunk.

Studio Ghibli's movies are decidedly Japanese. The Wind Rises is about an aviation engineer who designed the Zero fighter plane that Japan used in World War II. Of course, he was a hero in Japan -- not so much in the US. A lighter example is the No-Face in Spirited Away, a stock character from kabuki theater whose cultural relevance I'm still trying to figure out.

We have a few more Studio Ghibli Blu-Rays to see, including their version of Ursula LeGuin's Tales from Earthsea. I'm looking forward to seeing them.

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One more update: My memoir project is moving ahead. Mom's House went out to my editors and beta readers this weekend. Stay tuned for more updates.

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These moments of animated blogginess have been brought to you, as a public service, by Lynne Cantwell


Sunday, April 1, 2018

Time to rock, baby.

Guys! I am so excited to tell you about this thing I discovered earlier today.

Here at hearth/myth, we remember the '70s like they were yesterday: the hairstyles, the bell-bottom hip-hugger jeans, the music, the fads.

Like the Pet Rock. It was genius! It came in its own cardboard carrier on a bed of straw, together with a 32-page manual of care and training instructions.

And it did absolutely nothing. That's right! People in the '70s actually paid four bucks for a rock. Makes those of us buying designer bottled water sound almost brilliant, when you think about it.

I mean, it was a perfect pet. It didn't eat or drink. It never ran up outrageous vet bills. It was never disobedient. And it never pretended to be anything other than what it was. Authenticity was a big deal in the '70s, let me tell you.

Anyway, pet rocks weren't around for very long. Some parents -- including mine -- refused to buy them for their kids, saying any old rock would do. So I never had a pet rock.

But today I discovered that pet rocks are back! And they've been updated! ThinkGeek -- which, if you've never seen this retailer's website, you owe it to yourself as a geek to check it out -- is now selling Bluetooth Pet Rocks. They come with their own charger and they pair with your phone or tablet. ThinkGeek says they last eight hours (standard use) on a single charge. And they're ethically sourced! You can't beat that with a stick!

I mean, I guess you could. But I'd advise against it. You might put somebody's eye out. Or break a window.

Now I know what you're thinking: "Oh haha, Lynne. I've seen the calendar. I know what day it is. You're a little late with your April Fool's joke."

And I say to you, unbeliever: click that link above. And then get ready to pony up $19.99. I haven't bought mine yet, but I fully intend to -- as soon as I'm sure the item is still for sale after April Fool's Day is over.

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This moment of Pet Rock blogginess -- connected via Bluetooth, naturally -- has been brought to you, as a public service, by Lynne Cantwell.

Sunday, March 25, 2018

Healthy harvest.

Everybody wants to eat better, right? I've found one way to do it. I signed up for a cool produce delivery service called Hungry Harvest. We received our third delivery today, and it's working out really well.

Today's harvest. Note the teeny-tiny butternut squash at left.

This isn't a Blue Apron meal-in-a-box thing. As you can see, there's nothing in the box but fruits and veggies -- which I suppose could work if you're a vegetarian, but even so you'd need to supplement with spices and stuff.

Nor is it community-supported agriculture (CSA), which is where you buy a share in the harvest from a specific small farm. Every so often during the growing season, they deliver a box of whatever's ripe. It's a great way to eat local and to support local farmers. But at least at its inception, you couldn't pick what you got in your box, which is a problem if your family includes some picky eaters.

This is a food rescue service, if you will. About 20 percent of fruts and vegetables never make it to the store for a variety of superficial reasons: the produce isn't a preferred size, or the wholesaler ordered too much, or something. This company collects those foods, packs them into boxes, and sells them to subscribers for less than you'd pay at the grocery store. Everything in the photo above cost $15. They offer bigger boxes, too.

Our first shipment.
This photo is of our first shipment, which also cost $15. There's an eggplant lurking in the back, right in front of the box. I'd never made anything with eggplant before, but I used this one to make ratatouille.

Box number two, which I forgot to take a photo of, included a couple of odd-sized beets, one small and one ginormous. I'd never made anything with beets before, either -- in fact, my acquaintance with beets was limited to the canned variety my mother used to serve occasionally and the one time I had borscht at a fancy luncheon place. I ended up boiling and peeling them, and then making a brown-sugar glaze. I thought it was pretty tasty.

By now, you're sensing a theme: we're getting more variety in our veggies than usual. But more than that, this outfit claims each box sold keeps ten pounds of produce out of landfills. And they've also donated more than 700,000 pounds of food to organizations that help people who don't typically have access to fresh produce.

And unlike with a CSA, you can customize your box. You can even add some stuff, if you like. Last time I ordered a dozen eggs, which we dyed on Ostara last week.

Hungry Harvest doesn't deliver everywhere -- it covers the mid-Atlantic and part of Florida right now. A similar organization called Imperfect Produce operates in San Francisco; Los Angeles; Seattle; Portland, OR; and Chicago. (I found out about Hungry Harvest after a friend in Seattle signed up for Imperfect Produce.) If you live in any of these areas, check 'em out. I've found it to be a tasty way to do a good thing. If you know of any similar organizations, let me know so we can spread the word. 

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These moments of delicious blogginess have been brought to you, as a public service, by Lynne Cantwell.

Sunday, March 18, 2018

Why we do what we do.

This is not a knitting post, although I'm going to talk a little bit about knitting.

I spent part of the past week attempting to knit a zipper into a sweater. Yes, this is a thing you can do. I even took a class with knitting designer Ann Weaver to learn how to do it. For the knitters, I'll explain the technique (and save you the $60 or whatever it cost me to take the class); the rest of y'all can skip down past the photo to the rest of the post.

The trick to knitting in a zipper is a gizmo called a knit picker. If you were ever into making latch-hook rugs, you will recognize the design right away: it's a teeny-tiny hook with a latch that pivots to open and close the hook. The knit picker also has a fairly sharp tip. You take your knit picker and poke through the zipper tape at even intervals -- Ann recommended making them a quarter-inch apart. You grab your yarn with the hook, flip the latch shut, and draw up a loop, which you then put on a knitting needle. Hey presto, you've now got a stitch. Keep doing that 'til you run out of zipper tape. Then use a different needle to pick up stitches on your garment. Now you can do what amounts to a three-needle bind-off to join the zipper to the garment.

Here's one side of my zipper partly loaded onto the needle. The knit picker is in the middle of the photo. (Yes, there's a squirrel on the edge of my yarn bowl. The Groot mug doesn't have anything to do with the process; it's just there for fun.)


As it turned out, knitting in the zipper didn't work for my sweater as I'd hoped it would, so I'm hand-sewing it in place instead.

Why a zipper for my sweater? The pattern (it's the Killybegs by Carol Feller, for those who care) calls for a bunch of hooks and eyes, but I think a zipper will work better. Why not use a sewing machine? Because the presser foot can catch on the stitches in the sweater, among other reasons.

But why not just, I dunno, go out and buy a sweater?

The answer to that question is more complicated.

I recently read a book by Leland Dirks called The Hermitage at Ojito Creek. It's a compilation of blog posts he wrote while building his own house in southern Colorado. So I'm reading along, and when he starts talking about building this house, I'm envisioning a small place -- a cabin, essentially, with maybe a couple of rooms and indoor plumbing. But then he mentions a guest bedroom. And the library. And eventually he admits that his house is 1,800 square feet. That's twice the size of my apartment. 

And he built the thing from the ground up. By himself. Well, he had some help, but it wasn't like it was a crew of twenty guys -- it was mostly him.

My mind boggles. I can't even imagine building a doghouse myself, let alone a house to live in. Part of my fascination with tiny houses is that someone else would build the thing and drop it on my lot. Poof, instant house!

So why didn't he just, I dunno, go out and buy a house? He talks about that. He wanted it to be as energy-efficient as possible, for one thing. He wanted to make sure he was living as lightly on the land as possible. There's a lot of waste and a lot of reliance on fossil fuels in traditional building methods -- he wanted to avoid that. Bottom line: he wanted to make sure his house was built exactly the way he wanted it.

Why didn't I buy my sweater? And why am I putting in a zipper instead of sewing in a half-billion hooks and eyes? Because I want to make sure it's done exactly the way I want it.

We humans are just crazy that way, I guess.

But if I ever decide to build my own house? Two words: general contractor.

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These moments of handcrafted blogginess have been brought to you, as a public service, by Lynne Cantwell