decorative pine cone using paper recyclables

November 22, 2010 § 4 Comments

About two weeks ago, I was approached by Reena, the owner of, requesting my permission to feature my butternut squashes on the eco-artware-notes blog site for this week of Thanksgiving.  I was very flattered.  Thank you, Reena.  Eco-artware has some of the most wonderful sustainable art and décor you could find online, and a long list of very intriguing, creative artists and environmental advocates.  With all my wonder came guilt.  I often craft without bringing to mind the impact my work makes on the environment, especially with my significant use of paper.  The topic of sustainability was an emphasis in my architecture training, and today, I am reminded and shamed of how little it’s been in my consciousness in recent years.  I hope to get some reprieve for the less ecological crafts I’ve made and will be making in the future.  Today, I want to take a greener approach to a fun holiday craft: making a large decorative pine cone out of paper recyclables.

This summer, I had my first encounter with giant sequoia trees while hiking in Tuolumne Grove in Yosemite.   O.T. and I took the time to scour the grounds for the most handsome fallen giant cones to take home.  It occurred to me that since my “real” home is Toronto and not San Jose, I would require a clean pass through customs.  I would never risk consequential penalties with the law for a couple of mammoth cones, so I let the experience of these amusing novelties remain south of the border.  There are no sequoia trees anywhere near Toronto, so a homemade version will do.  *Edit: I thought O.T. and I had picked up sequoia cones, but as Suzi commented, these are in fact sugar pine cones.  Thanks, Suzi!

For this project, I repurposed a used paper towel core cut to about 7″ long and a few kraft paper bags.

1. Cut strips of the kraft paper bags in decreasing size, from about 8″ wide to 2″ wide.  They don’t have to be exact.  Fold each strip in half so that the print is hidden inside.  You will have folded strips about 4″ wide to 1″ wide.

2. Cut each strip into several slices, each being no more than 2″ wide.  Continue for all the strips, each time getting narrower, but no less than 1″ wide.

3. Fold each piece in half, and cut a curve on the open side.

4. Open each piece and cut a slit from the bottom, up to about 1″.

5.  With the crease facing upwards, fold the bottom sides up with a slight angle away from the crease.

6. Slit your paper towel core in four quadrants and tape the sides to form a peak.

7. Start taping the pieces to the paper towel core, starting from the peak of the paper towel core, and using the smallest pieces first.

8. Continue adhering all the strips, working towards the widest pieces, until you reach the bottom.

9. Once you reach the bottom, tuck and tape the last pieces into the paper towel core.

I decided to use my 7″ wide hurricane vase to display my giant paper sugar pine cone, but it’s up to you to place it wherever you feel it brings life to a room!

bean-by-number: turkish tiles

November 5, 2010 § 12 Comments

I hope you enjoyed the pictures of Istanbul’s İznik tiles in the previous post and can make sense of how my crazed bean art adventure last night resulted in the following design.Iznik tile-inspired bean art

As I mentioned in the previous post, I would like to create, over time, an assortment of crafts based on childhood art techniques.  What I didn’t mention is that, for a fraction of that assortment, I would like to design various bean-by-number crafts.  It’s exactly like paint-by-number, but with beans!   So, owing it to inspiring Istanbul, here is my first design of bean-by-number.  Go wild!bean-by-number turkish tile

Here is where you can download the bean-by-number sheet I’ve designed for you.  Listed is the sequence of beans I used, but it’s just a suggestion:

1. Red beans

2. Black turtle beans

3. Mung beans

4. Black-eyed peas

5. White navy beans

I reversed the red beans and mung beans for the second round as an alternate color scheme.iznik tile-inspired bean art

inspiring istanbul

November 5, 2010 § 13 Comments

I went a little crazy with yesterday’s corn kernel and pasta craft.  I had forgotten just how much fun it was to do those things.  An idea occurred to me that, over time, I should do a series of crafts based on childhood art techniques.  But I was so inspired, I couldn’t wait for the next time.  My enthusiasm caught me going wild with another bean art project before the day ended yesterday.  Before I show you the product of that adventure, I want to first show where the inspiration and adventure originated: Istanbul.Iznik Tile Topkapi Place

I had the privilege of visiting Istanbul with O.T. in August.  I had gotten adequately acquainted with Turkish culture long before planning the trip.  O.T. has schooled me on Turkey’s rich history, splendid sights, tempting culinary fare, and exotic language .  Even with all that homework, I was wide-eyed in awe as I witnessed it all firsthand. Iznik Tile Topkapi PalaceWhat took me most by surprise were the İznik tiles.  I had previously read about them in preparation for my trip, but reading books can no way  allow one to gauge the opulence and scale of these decorative works of art.  They are lavish!  There are buildings covered in every inch with these tiles, wall-to-wall, floor-to-ceiling.  I was so awestruck, I wanted to take pictures in front of every İznik tile pattern I crossed (to O.T.’s dismay who had gotten tired of taking pictures of me and tiles).  Here’s only a few of what I had seen at Topkapı Palace.  Now if you can imagine these tiles being multiplied a thousand fold, pattern after pattern, everywhere you look.  If these beauties do not inspire, I don’t know what would!Iznik Tile Topkapi PalaceIznik Tile Topkapi Palaceiznik tile Topkapi Palace

eataly and la dolce vita

October 20, 2010 § 1 Comment

So I must confess that, though I am partial to architecture and art and history, I travel to eat.  Here’s the part of my trip to Italy you haven’t seen.  Can you say “carb coma” ten times fast?

pasta shop stall in italy

In Venice: A sidewalk stall of endless varieties of pasta, of different shapes and sizes. From my favorite, squid ink, to mushroom to cocoa. Yes, there is chocolate-based pasta, which you boil and season with melted butter.

panna cotta in italy

In Rome: I am a huge fan of mousse and naturally loved the various panna cotta available. You take the glasses with you if choose to have yours to-go. These panna cotta were savored across from Trajan's column.

italian panini

In Rome: Panini is everywhere! I had a few throughout my stay, my first from one of the many stalls at Termini station. This panini here is from an old salumeria (salami shop) immediately outside of The Pantheon.

gelato and dolci in italy

In Florence: The prettiest gelato I've seen. In Venice: A sweets shop selling oversized meringue, an assortment of nut torones, and almond cookies.

pasta and pizza in italy

In Venice: Me, eating pasta and pizza, of course! The pasta was eaten at an outdoor patio along the Grand Canal. The pizza was in a pizzeria outside of St. Mark's Square.

publish a photobook

October 19, 2010 § 4 Comments

I recently created a special photobook for O.T., documenting our year’s travels.  It is the second annual “Where We’ve Been” photobook I’ve designed and had published.  I hope to make our travel photobooks a yearly practice, of course with the aspirations of keeping up with an always eventful travel itinerary!  October is a special time for both of us as we celebrate our birthdays, so it is appropriate to open and close the year at this time.

Given my sizable inventory of scrapbooking supplies and tools that I use for cardmaking, it’s a wonder why I didn’t approach this in the form of a scrapbook.  Well…I really love the professional look and polish of photobooks and, being a stationery graphic designer by trade, I opted to spend the hours on page layouts on my computer, as opposed to all of the cutting and gluing and embellishing.

Overall, I am very pleased with the quality of these books and highly encourage you to try out a little bit of photobooking yourself!

The full-print, full-bleed soft covers: O & M, Where We've Been, 2008-2009 and 2009-2010. The cover pages were taken at Ed Levin County Park and Yosemite National Park, California, respectively.

The back pages: O.T. hiking in Ed Levin County Park, California. Myself inside the Topkapi Palace Harem, Istanbul, Turkey.

when in rome

October 14, 2010 § Leave a comment

Last night’s dinner of spaghetti al nero di seppia is a good segue to showcase some of the marvelous sights I saw in Italy.  Of course, when in Italy, you must do the holy trinity of tourism: Rome, Florence, and Venice.  I admit, I dabbled in a fair ration of classical art and architecture history some time ago, so Rome was the seat of the world to me.  Unexpectedly, I fell in love with Florence instead, perhaps because I hadn’t studied it with such diligence and it took me by surprise.  What’s even more surprising was Venice didn’t leave me with an impression of being as romantic as it is perceived.  I found it was beautiful in the day, yet so dark and mysterious at night.  Whenever I visit Italy next, I plan to see more of Tuscany.  The striking views of endless lines of cypress trees along the route from Rome to Florence really called to me.  My trip to Italy was definitely an endeavor in architecture.  More on my perspectives of food and culture to follow.

italy rome colosseum

In Rome: the colosseum in its grandeur.

italy roman forum

In Rome: the ruins within the ancient Roman Forum.

italy rome pantheon

In Rome: the Pantheon from beneath its oculus and from the exterior.

italy rome st. peter's

In the Vatican: St. Peter's Basilica's arm and dome.

italy florence

In Florence: the Duomo at dusk and an afternoon view from above.

italy venice

In Venice: gondolas in a canal and a gondolier in the Grand Canal passing the Rialto Bridge.


nero di seppia spaghetti

October 13, 2010 § Leave a comment

nero di seppia spaghetti

I traveled throughout Italy two years ago and brought back enough varieties of pasta to fill an entire suitcase.  Spaghetti al nero di seppia (squid ink) is one which I despairingly wish could be easily available on the shelves of North American supermarkets as they are on the streets of Rome.

[Two years later and out of pasta] Last month, while in transfer at Fiumicino airport in Rome on my way from Istanbul, I was wide-eyed at the sight of nero di seppia pasta at Duty Free.  My reverie of a delicious dish of squid ink spaghetti quickly vanished upon sticker shock: the price tag was 8 Euros, twice as much as on the streets and nearly CAD$12.  After much ruminating, I had to put it down.

Well, the pasta gods answer prayers.  A few hours crossing the Atlantic led me to (somewhat) forget about the overpriced commodity and I flew directly to my parents in Michigan where, astonishingly, my mom presented me a box of nero di seppia spaghetti she randomly found at Marshalls for a jaw-dropping price of US$3!

O.T. is in T.O. this week and a worthy cause for the use of my precious pasta.

My cooking is almost always ad hoc and impromptu, but I kept record of my steps for you to trace:

250 g nero di seppia spaghetti

1-1/2 lb fresh cultivated mussels

2 tbsp olive oil

1/3 c butter

3 cloves garlic

1/3 large vidalia onion, finely chopped

1 plum tomato, finely chopped

1/4 c sundried tomato pesto

10-12  cremini mushrooms, sliced

1/2 c water

salt and pepper, to taste

1.  In a sautee pan, heat the olive oil and butter.

2.  Sautee garlic and onions.  Add tomatoes, pesto, and water.

3.  Add the cremini mushrooms and mussels and simmer covered until the shells have opened and the flesh is yellow.  Add salt and pepper to taste.

4.  Boil the spaghetti, drain, and season with the sauce.  Buon appetito!

spectacular yosemite

October 6, 2010 § 3 Comments

After several summers of roughing it in Algonquin Park, I’ve become somewhat of a camping enthusiast.  And how enthusiastic I was when O.T. gave me news that he managed to book a campsite in Yosemite National Park in California for two nights this July.

Yosemite is breathtaking.  What surprised me most is its scenic variety.  It is so vast, there is simply so much to see, and camping became a mere function for rest.   We set up camp at the west entrance at Hodgdon Meadow.  We drove towards the east along Tioga Pass Road, one of the most picturesque stretches of scenery I’ve seen, stopping at the very serene Tuolumne Meadow and ending with views of snow-capped mountains at Tioga Pass.  We drove south of Yosemite Valley through Badger Pass up to Glacier Point.

In our three days and two nights, we managed to complete 8 hiking trails and have vowed to return a few times more to complete as many trails as we can in our lifetime.

yosemite valley

Yosemite Valley with Half Dome and Yosemite Falls in the distance.

vernal fall

Along the Mist Trail, in front of Vernal Fall.

Hiking the Mist Trail. A scenic moment at Vernal Fall.

Tuolomne Meadow

Hiking up the granite rocks of Sentinel Dome and a view of the entire Yosemite Park from the top of Sentinel Dome.

Camping at Hodgdon Meadow.

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