Friday, February 29, 2008

Fun Facts

Happy Leap Day! In the spirit of Ben's fun leap year facts, I'd like to share some facts I've learned this week:

Did you know that cheetahs have no genetic diversity at all? They are practically all clones of each other. It's true, but scientists are trying to help them by introducing genes from other cats.

Did you know that the word influenza comes from the Italian word for "influence" because the ancient Italian astrologers thought that the sickness was caused by the periodic influence of the constellations.

Currently, one in 99 men in the U.S. are in prison. It's the highest percentage there has ever been.

If the current issue of Vogue is any indication, there are only ugly clothes being made right now. (Yes, this is a fact.) Seriously--they are all ugly! Except for maybe one dress by Nina Ricci, even the handbags are ugly! It's a good thing I'm poor and have decided to make all my clothes from now on.

There are over 100 strains of the cold virus, and when you've had one, you are generally immune to that particular strain for about 4 years, but not to any of the other ones. So far, no one has been able to create a vaccine or a cure. Don't I know it! This cold that I have, or whatever it is, will not go away... and its making me so angry.

Okay, I guess those are all the facts I have for now. And I don't know if they are actually fun or not, but you always have to call them "fun facts" for some reason. I realize they are not actually very fun.

In other news, I'm so excited because in a few weeks I get to go to Charleston, where its warm! And I think after that I'm going to go back to the South during my spring break, for some more warm weather. I saw tulips growing today (oh! It was so pretty--I also saw a restaurant where they planted little miniature daffodils in flowerboxes all around their outdoor sidewalk seating area. It was so lovely!), but it's still really really really cold here, and I'm tired of it. I realize I sound kind of grouchy right now, but I'm just so sick of being sick. I promise that this weekend I will write an interesting post about art.

Tuesday, February 26, 2008

Random Fact About Me

I feel as if I've been AWOL from my blog for a while. I've just been trying to get over this nasty cold or whatever it is that I have. Beginning to get worried over the amount I've been sleeping, I decided to call my mother and ask her what was wrong with me. She said that when I was a baby, I was really easy to take care of because I was always sweet. (Of course!) Oh, and she also said that when I would get sick I would just sleep and sleep until I was well again. So I guess I've reverted to my childhood and am sleeping away the germs.

The other wierd thing about me and being sick is that whenever I am sick, everything smells bad. Really really bad! It's disgusting, and it drives me crazy. I'm tired of being sick, and just want things to be normal again. Okay, I'll stop talking about being sick now. Maybe that will be the first step toward normalness. Or using words that are really words.

The good news is that somehow in between naps on Sunday I wrote a 15-page paper! It was due today, and when I reread it this morning, it seemed to make sense. I hope my teacher thinks so. Now I've got another one due in about a week, so there's no rest for the weary.

Sunday, February 24, 2008

Wake me up if you can

The somnambulence continues. I think the Sandman dumped too much sand on me. Either that, or I have become half-human half-bear and am trying to hibernate these last few weeks of winter away. It's the oddest feeling. I try to stand up and walk around and am pulled by gravity's invisible bonds back down to my pillows and blankets, where I doze some more. What do bears dream about? Honeybeesz z z z z z z . . .

Saturday, February 23, 2008

Sleeping Sickness

For about a week I've had some kind of horrible cold or flu or something. I don't know what it is, but its the strangest sickness I've ever had. I have all the regular symptoms like sore throat, sneezing, coughing, etc. But I also have really wierd symptoms like constant hunger, constant sleepiness, and strange cravings.

Last night I slept for 12 hours. Then I woke up for about 2 hours, called out sick from work, then took a three hour nap. Then I woke up for another few hours, tried to work on my paper, and fell back asleep for a few more hours. I'm awake now--I think--but I feel like I could fall back into a deep sleep at any moment. And I'm not even taking medicine! Maybe I need to...

Every time I wake up I have to eat and eat or else my stomach feels like its going to eat me. It's so strange. I swear I'm not pregnant! Yet I am having some strange cravings. For instance, the other day nothing would satisfy me except pretzels. For the past two days I've been craving plain donuts. Luckily I'm too exhausted to walk to Dunkin Donuts, or else I think I would be really fat.

I hope I recover from this strange illness soon. I would like to go back to work eventually, and get my paper done. Meanwhile... I guess I'll enjoy the dreams.

Thursday, February 21, 2008

The Moon Is...

V. The Encyclopaedia

"If I could set the moon upon
This table," said my friend,
"Among the standard poets
And brochures without end,
And noble prints of old Japan,
How empty they would seem,
By that encyclopaedia
Of whim and glittering dream."

~Vachel Lindsay
from The Congo and Other Poems

One of my absolute favorite poets is Vachel Lindsay who wrote over thirty poems about the moon. Many of them have titles like "What the Coal-Heaver Said" or "What the Rattlesnake Said" and they are each an answer to the question, "What is the moon?" For the coal-heaver, the moon is the open door of a giant furnace. For the rattlesnake, it is a groundhog. To the old horse in the city, the moon is a heap of corn, which grows and grows. One of these days, says the horse, he's going to break down his stable door and run to the corn and eat it up.

I've been thinking about the moon ever since seeing the lunar eclipse last night. It was quite beautiful. The sky was covered in a fine gauzy haze which didn't cover up the moon, so I could plainly see the soft gray shadow of the earth slowly enveloping the white orb. I called my family, and told them to go outside and look at it--they didn't even know about the eclipse. I'm surprised my dad didn't know, because he used to have a telescope. When we were kids he'd give us astronomy lessons, gathered around the telescope. The best part was when he'd use the telescope to project an enlarged image of the full moon onto his shirt. You could see all the craters and everything. Too bad he doesn't have the telescope anymore, or he could have seen the rings of Saturn, which appeared next to the moon, the only other celestial body bright enough to pierce the cloudy haze of the New York sky.

My mother knew about the eclipse, because when I called she was actually outside in her garden planting peas. Yes, she plants peas by moonlight--it is her custom to plant peas by the light of the February full moon. Last night she had gone out to plant them, and was busy at work when she happened to glance up at the sky. The eclipse had begun, so the moon didn't look full anymore, and at first she couldn't figure out what was going on. But then I called and my dad and sister came running out of the house to look at the moon, and they all watched the spectacle together. She was worried that her peas wouldn't get the benefit of full-moon planting, since the full moon was disturbed, but I told her that the eclipse is probably doubly beneficial to pea-seeds, and that her crop will most likely be the best ever this year.

Wednesday, February 20, 2008

Counting My Blessings

Sorry about the frowny face yesterday. It was a bad day. I've come down with a bad cold/flu type of bug, concurrent with bizarre stabbing pains in my abdomen, and was missing my family, who are going through a pretty hard time right now. And I was home alone listening to sad songs... who wouldn't have a frowny face?

Have you ever listened to A Prairie Home Companion on NPR? My favorite part is always the "advertisement" by the Ketchup Advisory Board, in which the narrators, Jim and Barb, describe their blessings, holiday-newsletter style:

"It's been a good spring for Jim and me. We had a real nice week in Phoenix at the Acme Sands Resort and Miniature Golf and when we returned home I wrote a bitter letter to the airline complaining about a flight attendant's sarcastic remark about our matching exercise suits and we received 50,000 free miles. Our daughter called us and we talked for ten minutes and she never told us that she wished she had never been born because we had ruined her life. For Lent, I gave up anchovies and Jim gave up performance art, so that was no problem. And then to cap it all off, Jim's company offered him early retirement. I thought we had it made. And then one night I came down and found Jim in the kitchen opening and closing the refrigerator door..."

It's funny because they always list what should be terrible things that happen, yet turn them around into positive experiences. And at the end, they discover that all you really need in life to make you happy is some delicious ketchup.

It's cheesy, I know, but I could learn a lesson from Jim and Barb. I've also been counting my blessings based on things I've seen on the New York streets, like the man I saw the other day with no legs. No legs! I'm really really glad I have legs. But we take our legs for granted every day.

So, yes I'm sick, but it's given me a chance to sit at home in a sunbeam and catch up on my school readings, which I've been neglecting. I've also been able to listen to past episodes of the Bob & Sheri show, which I otherwise never have time to do. I can't think of any positive spin on the situation my family is going through... except that we are pulling together strongly and learning the ways that the Lord can bless us through adversity, as well as getting a lesson in the very real consequences of sin. I am thankful for my family, and for the faith that my parents have, which is a tremendous example to me. I am also thankful for my church, and for the knowledge I have of God's love. He does love me, and my family, and will watch over us.

Tuesday, February 19, 2008

Frowny Face


Monday, February 18, 2008

President's Day

This is my 100th blog post! Coincidentally it falls on President's Day, so now we have two reasons to celebrate. But I'm home sick today, so I won't be doing any partying. Just some reflecting on this country and the leaders we have had. These two are my favorites:
In an early biography of George Washington, Mason Weems wrote about the good character of our first president, saying that "It is not then, in the glare of public, but in the shade of private life that we are to look for the man. Private life is always real life. Behind the curtain, where the eyes of the million are not upon him and where a man can have no motive but inclination, no incitement but honest nature, there he will always be sure to act himself: consequently, if he act greatly, he must be great indeed."

There are many things I love about John Adams, including the devotion of his life to serving his nation. He said, "Our obligations to our country never cease but with our lives." His wife Abigail, recognizing the great character of her husband and some of his contemporaries wrote, "These are the times in which a genius would wish to live. It is not in the still calm of life, or the repose of a pacific station, that great characters are formed. The habits of a vigorous mind are formed in contending with difficulties. Great necessities call out great virtues. When a mind is raised, and animated by scenes that engage the heart, then those qualities which would otherwise lay dormant, wake into life and form the character of the hero and statesman."

Let us celebrate Presiden't Day by being the best American citizens we can be.

Sunday, February 17, 2008

Last night when I was supposed to be working on my paper, I got distracted by Etsy, and found some great crochet dress patterns! I'm going to make both of these dresses--I bought the patterns, which come from an old 1960's pattern book. I've been searching a long time for some good dress patterns for crochet, and it seems like they are all from the past. But we need to revive these things. Whatever happened to making your own clothes?

I feel like I've been neglecting my blog--hopefully you haven't missed me too much. There's just been a lot to do...actually, that's not a good excuse--I spent the other night watching music videos on Youtube instead of working on my paper. I don't know what's wrong with me, but I better get busy because I've only got a week to write this thing. It's about Victorian interior decorating, and I've been reading style books from the period, such as "Hints on Household Taste" by Charles Eastlake, who was the authority on what furniture styles to buy and how to arrange your home, back in the 1870's.

And I'm still thinking of topics for my thesis--yesterday I came up with at least five more. I realized that I'm particularly interested in symbolism and iconography and thats what attracts me to things like the Shaker drawings, religious artifacts, samplers and genealogies. Even gravestones. I could write about gravestone art! What I need to do is schedule a meeting with one of my advisors and see if she can advise me and help me narrow it down. It's just hard to know, not having begun the research, what has been done already, and what is out there that needs to be studied.

Anyway, I think I'm getting another! Oh well. I hope everyone had a great Valentine's Day. I went to see Rufus Wainwright at Radio City Music Hall and had a very entertaining evening. He is quite the performer! His voice is phenomenal. I realized that he's pretty much a cross between Morrissey and Elton John, with a little bit of Neil Diamond (and Judy Garland!) thrown in. I left before the final encore, and I'm glad I did, because it sounds like things got a little over the top. I'm not Catholic, but I would have found his last song offensive. But I liked the rest of the show a whole lot: the costume changes, the fireworks, the decadence. Radio City Music Hall was the perfect place for it.

Wednesday, February 13, 2008

Heart to Heart

Happy Valentine's Day! I have always loved Victorian cards and paper scraps and found a delightful website where there are some gorgeous examples, as well as very interesting information about them.

I made Valentines last week and sent them out to friends that live far away from me. I love to send out Valentine's because every time I do, I get an image in my head of hearts emanating from my mailbox and being dispersed out into the world like dandelion seeds, spreading love and cheer where they might land. Everyone likes to get something in the mail, and I'm old-fashioned and a romantic at heart, and so love sending mail through the actual post.

However, in my case, the seeds didn't exactly sprout as planned. On Monday my mother called me up to say that she received my card, but it had become separated from its handmade envelope, which had come completely unglued in the mail. It was a miracle that the thing had even arrived, she said, because the hatched card and its envelope were only slightly touching each other, ready at any moment to go their separate ways.

So, I apologize to any of you who may or may not have received a Valentine from me. I guess Elmer's doesn't make glue like they used to. Hopefully some of them arrived at their destinations in one piece. If not, I hope you know I love you, with or without a Valentine to prove it.

Tuesday, February 12, 2008


Class was cancelled today so I took advantage of the free day by going to New York University's Bobst Library to do research for the two papers I'm supposed to be working on, as well as get clues about my thesis. I spent 6 hours there, but only got about half of those things done. Most of the time was spent reading about Winslow Homer during the Civil War and George Inness's thoughts on metaphysics.

Somewhere in the Winslow Homer books, I realized that I was in a building overlooking Washington Square, and during the Civil War, Homer spent some time living in New York City, in an apartment overlooking Washington Square. I looked out the window and realized that the park may have looked much the same 140 years ago, especially now that it was coated in a fine layer of snow.

It had begun snowing just as I arrived at the library, in the early afternoon, and as the day progressed, the snow continued a steady fall. Back to the books at hand, I suddenly came across a passage quoting Henry Ward Beecher:

Is there anything in the world so devoid of all power as a snow-flake? ...It forms in silence and in the obscurity of the radiant ether, far up above eyesight or handreach... We have sat and watched the fall of snow until our head grew dizzy, for it is a bewitching sight to persons specualtively inclined. There is a aimless way of riding down, a simple, careless, thoughtless motion, that leads you to think that nothing can be more nonchalant than snow... If you reach out your hand to help it, your very touch destroys it. It dies in your palm, and departs as a tear.

When I finally left the library, the streets were full of slush. The new snow was already corrupted by hundreds of footprints, and college students in the park were making snowballs. But the nonchalant snow was still coming down, icy and wet. I hope its still there tomorrow, because I want to take pictures of Central Park in the snow, and paint it.

Monday, February 11, 2008

It's Nice

For those of you who think Harlem is a scary place...maybe it is, but not completely. In the short time I've lived here I've seen so many acts of kindness by strangers that I'm beginning to think that my Harlem home might be even more friendly and kind than the small towns I've lived in.

My roommate had an experience the other day when she went to the grocery store and bought more food than she thought she would. Then she had to walk up the steep hill to our house, carrying several heavy bags, against the cold winter wind. Every few minutes she would stop and put the bags down and warm up her hands. Then all of a sudden a little old man came along and picked up the bags and started carring them up the hill for her. He walked her all the way to our house! And he wasn't a murderer or crazy person, just a nice man who saw a need for help and filled it out of the kindness of his heart.

This morning I saw a woman with a big stroller trying to go down the stairs into the subway. As she struggled, along came a random teenage boy who picked up the stroller and carried it down the steps for her. Then he continued on his own way, running to catch another train to school.

It seems like every day I see something like this happen in Harlem. It warms my heart, and really makes me love where I live.

Sunday, February 10, 2008

Scattered Thoughts

There's some kind of blizzard going on outside, even though this morning it was clear and sunny. I hear the wind battering the windows on our old house, and its nice to be inside and cozy. I've been trying to think of something inspirational or interesting to write on my blog tonight, but I just have random thoughts, so I guess I'll share those. In list form:

1. Today at church I went to a teacher development meeting--kind of a workshop to help strengthen the Relief Society teachers. There were 5 of us and we were asked to go around the circle and say a good thing about each others lessons. The thing the other girls said about me was that I always seem to be so prepared and have done a lot of research and studying of my topic. That was interesting, and nice to hear. I didn't tell them that for most of my lessons, I have been starting my preparation the day before. In fact, my goal is to start preparing further in advance... but maybe now I don't need to worry about that?

2. My roommates and I had people over for an early lunch/dinner today, and I made my mom's "Tostado Pizza" which turned out just fine even though I forgot to mix the taco seasoning in with the meat and had to improvise. Oh well--I don't think people even noticed. This is Nick The Dentist's third time coming over to our house, and our landlady is in love with him. Maybe now she will finally clean out the first floor apartment and let him move in down there.

3. Our home teacher and his roommate (mostly his roommate) want to hire my sister and I to make artwork for their bare walls. They are all accountants and are willing to pay the big bucks! It will be a fun project, but unfortunately all three of them have completely different tastes in art.

4. I keep thinking of new ideas for my thesis and cannot stop changing my mind! I thought of a new one in church today. What if I write about the federal-sponsored art projects created during the Depression to help stimulate the economy by providing jobs for artists? My idea a few days ago was to write about the home crafts that upper middle class Victorian women would do, like making wax fruits or painting china. Oh, I just thought of Mount Rushmore! That would be really interesting to learn about...

5. There are people screaming outside. I think they are being blown away in the wind.

6. So, just when I thought I was doing better, I realized that my heart still hurts. When will I be back to normal? I had to get out my broken-heart/letting-go mix again, because it is full of upbeat songs that remind me how awesome I am and how everything is going to be okay. And I made plans for Valentine's Day.

7. Now I'm going to go work on my crochet, and watch TV. Sunday night TV is the best because there is Nature on PBS at 8. Then, after Nature is Masterpiece, and they are showing Pride & Prejudice as part of a whole Jane Austen series. So let me go get a blanket to bundle up in, some hot cocoa, and my yarn, and I'll talk to you guys later.

Friday, February 8, 2008

Carolina On My Mind

Maybe because its been grey and wet here in New York, I have been missing North Carolina more than usual this past week. I almost got desperate enough to jump on the Chinatown bus to Georgia, but I decided to save that adventure for another day (er, seems to depart only in the middle of the night!) But I feel like I'm missing out on a lot. My lil' sister turned 18 this week, and it would have been nice to have been there for her party. Also, one of my brothers is going away for a while, and even though I just saw him at Christmas time, I would have liked to give him another hug. Then of course, there are friends I miss (happy birthday to you, too, Lis!), and good old Southern cooking. I made a big batch of cornbread last weekend, which helped fill that craving, but I'm still yearning for shrimp and grits, and real banana pudding.

In the yarn store the other day I overheard a lady in a knitting circle quipping to the other women, "My two favorite teams are Carolina and whoever is playing Duke!" I couldn't help a smile, and I felt like I was back in Chapel Hill for a moment.

It's funny, having moved around a lot during my life, I don't really know where I'm "from." Answering that question is always circuitous. I'm really happy to have lived in several totally different places, from the west coast to the east. And there are things about each state that I love. The Oregon coast is paradise, the Massachusetts countryside is redolent with history and beauty, and New York is about as glamorous as it gets. But for now I've got Carolina on my mind, like an unrequited love.

Thursday, February 7, 2008

Adam Patch of Tarrytown

In Fitzgerald's The Beautiful and Damned, Anthony Patch wastes his youth waiting for his grandfather to die and leave him his millions. But old Adam "Cross" Patch is stubborn and lives a long life, spent secluded in his Tarrytown estate devising ways to promote prohibition and other unpopular moral standards. When he does die, he leaves all the money to his caretaker.

Having just finished the book, which is of course excellent, I found myself coincidentally travelling to Tarrytown to see the mansion Lyndhurst, where a robber baron such as Adam Patch really lived.

Lyndhurst was built in 1838, a fashion-forward example of what we now call Gothic Revival style. Designed to look like a medieval castle, its asymmetry, abundance of tracery, and superfluous details was refreshing, and soon embraced by a population bored with the clean lines of Federal architecture. The house is gorgeous by any standards, even on a cold February day (unlike the photograph) when it stood stark and grey against a stormy sky and framed by bare grey-branched trees, above the silvery Hudson River.

One of the most remarkable things about this house is that it was one of the first instances in America of interior design. The architect, Alexander Jackson Davis, not only designed the outer structure, but conceived of the furniture, wall decorations, windows, floors, etc. Following the gothic theme, the house has enchanting stained glass windows, buttressed ceilings, and furniture that evokes the days of King Arthur. Before horror-vacui took over and filled late-Victorian homes with boatloads of knick-knacks, houses such as this displayed a pleasing abundance of wealth, while still maintaining a tasteful reserve. It is a jewel.

And yet, it is all theater. The people who lived there were not medieval lords and ladies, but glorified farmers and merchants. Their medeival castle was the product of rosy imagination, built in the true American spirit of do-it-yourself destiny. The marble entrance hall, upon close inspection, is wood painted to look like marble; the heavy oak-beamed ceilings are plaster painted to look like wood. The whole thing built for show, on a whim, to buy a sort of chivalry, if that were even possible.

"I'm sick of all this shoddy realism," exclaims Anthony Patch, in the novel, and he can never understand his grandfather's generation or the value of the work and money that got him where he was. But in a way, if he was anything like the men who built Lyndhurst, maybe old Adam Patch had more in common with his grandson Anthony than either of them thought.

Monday, February 4, 2008

How to Be an Old Maid or a Jazz-Baby

All of a sudden, I have become obsessed with crocheting little granny squares out of cotton string, which I am going to start selling on etsy. You'll see. I learned how to make them from this book I found at Knitty City (my new favorite store). The book's cover doesn't really make sense: "lacy crochet" isn't pictured, or even truly represented in the patterns within. I would have called it Retro crochet or something like that. Anyway, I'm obsessed with it, and all I have been doing in my spare moments is crocheting in miniature, making little coasters, placemats, and other odds and ends.

It was funny to see myself tonight: coming home from work and changing into flannels, sitting on the living room rug watching Antiques Roadshow, drinking hot chocolate and crocheting doilies. What makes me not an old maid?

On a totally unrelated subject, ever since I've been reading Fitzgerald's "The Beautiful and Damned," I've been thinking of life in his language. What I mean is that I walk down the street, or step onto the subway, or sit with my roommates at breakfast and instead of having normal girl-thoughts or daydreams, I begin narrating in my mind: "She looked up at the Harlem rowhouses gathering and gleaming in the sun. New York, she supposed, was home--the city of luxury and mystery, of preposterous hopes and exotic dreams. She was haunted by the suggestion that life might be, after all, significant. Glancing around at the collection of people waiting for the train, she felt as if she were growing gradually older, until as the battered A-train pulled into the station, ruminations too deep for words would be wintering in her eyes."

I'm not a Gloria Gilbert or a Daisy Buchanan (thank goodness!) but there's something impossibly romantic and easy about Fitzgerald's language that makes me want to wear a silk dress and be heartbroken and dancing at a jazz club in the middle of New York City.

Friday, February 1, 2008

Thesis Ideas

I met with my advisor this week to talk about ideas for my thesis project, which will occupy my third term of school, beginning in May. So far, I have about a hundred ideas, but the primary one has to do with the building known to LDS as the Kirtland Temple, which was the very first LDS temple, built 1833-6. I think it would be interesting to research and write about the structural history of the building--how it was conceived, where its stylistic influences came from, who were the people who built it, what iconography and symbolism does it contain, and how it influenced the appearance and symbolism of subsequent LDS temples. I want to know if the iconography used in current LDS temples originated in the Kirtland building, or if it evolved later.

This would probably be a fascinating topic, but first I have to do some preliminary research in order to find out what has already been written on the subject. Is there too much, or too little that has been said? Are there any contributions that I could make to that literature?

And though this topic interests me greatly, I have a few misgivings which I would need to overcome. Would it be cheating to write about a subject I'm already, as a Latter-Day Saint, more than basically familiar with? Would I be pigeon-holed into a category considered (even falsely) to be less "scholarly" than if I were to write about, say, Winslow Homer's southern watercolors or the influence of Art Deco on the creation of Rockefeller Center? Would my fellow students, many of whom know my religion, think I was taking the easy path by choosing a subject so close to home? Could I write an objective and scholarly paper on a subject that may end up having deep spiritual and emotional resonance with me? These are the things I must consider these next few weeks as I make my decision.

Fortunately, as I said, I have many back-up topics to write about, which would probably fascinate me to no end. These include: Hawaii's traditional quiltmaking, Fraktur drawings of the Pennsylvania Germans, Shaker gift-drawings, Theorems, Mary Cassatt's etchings, gravestone carvings, early American self-portraits, etc. So you see, I will not lack for a thesis topic, the question is just, which one?