When a Pencil Becomes a Destination

IMG_3707I love using pencils of all kinds. Pencils graded and numbered for drawing. Did you know that Henry David Thoreau created our numbering system for hardness/softness (i.e. light/dark)?  Mechanical pencils for notes at meetings. The classic No. 2 yellow pencil for nostalgia. Finding a pencil sharpener these days is as hard as finding a phone booth. But they make all these cool small sharpeners that fit in your pocket. The eraser on the end never seems to last as long as the lead. Maybe I make more mistakes than most, but it gives me an excuse to buy separate erasers.

So it may not surprise you that when I was in New York City I twisted my cousin’s arm to go with me to CW Pencil Enterprise in Chinatown. It was also meant to be a lesson in using the subway. She uses an app to find the best routes and honestly it was like watching someone who is really good at using Word or Excel show you a shortcut. It all happened so fast that I didn’t learn much except the subway seems well used and looks antique.

IMG_3709I digress. Pencils! So many in one place. A store dedicated to the humble pencil. It is a delight and seems like an “only in New York City” kind of thing. I could have fondled the pencils all afternoon. Alas, we were also going to a Broadway performance later. So I bought a lot of pencils, stickers, journals and children’s books. Oh and some erasers. The whole experience made me happy!

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Do you know what also made me happy? This video that my bff Harriet shared on Facebook. If it doesn’t make you smile then maybe you need to spend some time getting reacquainted with the humble yet mighty pencil.

Travel Theme: Fantastic!

My breath caught for a jagged second as I looked across the street at the Traveler’s Bookcase. Like the revelation of peanut butter and chocolate, my two passions are combined in one shop. Travel and books! Books and travel! Fantastic!

Specialty travel bookshop at 8375 West Third Street (across from Joan's on 3rd), Los Angeles

Specialty travel bookshop at 8375 West Third Street (across from Joan’s on Third), Los Angeles

I love looking at unconventional formats in travel books. Natalie Campagno spent more than 30 minutes searching the shelves for irresistible maps and guides to share with me. I went a little nuts. I do not know when I will be back in Los Angeles so I indulged.This is the kind of tactile experience Amazon cannot replicate!

Most beautiful design goes to Love Goa by Fiona Caulfield. It comes in its own fabric jacket and is a joy to handle. Most clever book award goes to the Wildsam Field Guide, Detroit.  I love my Nashville and this one is just as brilliant.  The best new book imparting important information while feeling nostalgic:  The New York Time 36 Hours USA & Canada Southwest and Rocky Mountains. I have already used this one to help plan an upcoming adventure with UK Sarah. Another trend that I am not wild about is the “curated guide” to shopping that is a snobby version of the Yellow Pages. They inevitably have to be so exclusive that they are not likely to include my passions.  So eat.shop new england and San Francisco the hunt did not float my boat.

I went a little crazy tasting the travel books and maps at Traveler's Bookcase.

I went a little crazy tasting the travel books and maps at Traveler’s Bookcase.

Also trending are stylized maps. These often offer a highly selective view of a city. When we think of Berlin is a guide/map with such a high concept geographic map that you could spend most of your time lost if you depended upon it. I will stick to the Railway City Map series. I love my map of Barcelona. It is practical and beautiful.

If you have ever read 84 Charing Cross Road then you know my fantasy: Natalie Compagno and I will become pen pals and I will ask her to look for original or obscure travel books and she will share things she thinks I will like. Only updated to 2015 I will not send $5 bills through the mail. Or send her eggs from Denmark.

If you are anywhere near Los Angeles you have to check out this bookstore because it is fantastic.

For more Travel Theme Fantastic posts: http://wheresmybackpack.com/2015/03/13/travel-theme-fantastic/.

5 Inspirations from Frank Lloyd Wright’s Home and Museum

Frank Lloyd Wright Home and Studio museum in Oak Park, Illinois

Frank Lloyd Wright Home and Studio museum in Oak Park, Illinois

I have long wanted to go to Frank Lloyd Wright’s home and studio in Oak Park (just outside Chicago on the green line). I thought I had to rent a car to get there. The beauty of Google Maps (click train option) and I made plans to visit at last.

Getting there on the green line actually was a little more complicated because I was trying to get on in Bridgeport instead of downtown. I had made a 2:00 p.m. tour reservation and after a bus ride to Roosevelt station it still was not clear when the train was departing. I pulled the “quick release” and called Lyft. The driver Caroline lives in Oak Park so I not only got there in plenty of time, I learned a lot about this first suburb of Chicago (all for $23).

Frank Lloyd Wright was just starting his career as an architect and getting married when he bought a piece of land on the edge of town and built his family home. At that time his home looked out on the prairie and he was able to draw inspiration from nature for his work. I thought about the interesting things I observed in his home and found these 5 inspirations.

Frank Lloyd Wright's first home was built on the edge of the prarie.

Frank Lloyd Wright’s first home was built on the edge of the prarie.

1.  Marry wisely if you plan to use your home as a place of experimentation.

The family home evolved over the 20 years they lived there. They raised 6 children in this home. FLW worked out many of his ideas in his own remodeling projects. Lucky for him he seems to have chosen his wife well as she let him design not just the architecture but the furnishings as well.

2. If you are going to be a prick-ly person, then you better be a genius or super talent.

Stories abound of FLW’s very particular vision and his disregard for others feelings in his pursuit of this vision. Our docent did not sugar coat why he got fired–he was designing homes behind his bosses’ backs. Moonlighting is frowned upon when you are keeping business to yourself and not sharing the fees with the partners. In college I had the honor of going to a conference at Wingspread in Racine, Wisconsin. Wingspread is a prairie home (mansion) that FLW designed for the Johnson&Johnson family. They told stories of him returning to visit and staying up all night rearranging the furniture and generally being an eccentric and demanding house guest.

3. It is fun to be creative and design special things for your own living space.

FLW designed many decorative elements of his home (such as the skylight in the photo below). He must have enjoyed it.

4. You have to be willing to stand out and risk ridicule if you are an original thinker.

Frank Lloyd Wright made a huge impact on American architecture because he was willing to take risks.

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After the tour I walked about 4 blocks to main street Oak Park through a beautiful neighborhood contemporary to his home. The docent said we would be able to see several of his homes on our walk. He was absolutely correct and they were easy to spot. The homes of the period, when he was developing his unique vision, were Victorian. Stately yes, but not very interesting.

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Compare this to the lines of one of his early designs. This is a clunkier version than the clean modern lines he eventually made popular, but already it is a big departure and a risky choice for both the homeowners and FLW.

5.  If you are going to think outside the box, it helps to be short.

The piano that he inset in the wall to save space in the interior of the “playroom” is suspended and hangs out over the staircase. This is fine if you are 5’9″ or shorter.

World of Wearable Art is WOW!

English speakers have a couple of dozen superlatives at our disposal to express complete amazement: stupendous, boffo, awesome to name a few. As I watched the World of Wearable Art show unfold, I just kept saying “Wow!”

Inspiring fashion in the lobby to set the mood.

Inspiring fashion in the lobby to set the mood.

The level of creativity and inventiveness made such a deep impression on me in the few examples I had seen in museums that I timed my visit to New Zealand around the 2 weeks of the show. You have to plan as the tickets go on sale in January and many of the evenings sell out quickly. My friend UK Sarah was willing to go with me and make a girls weekend in Wellington on the strength of my enthusiasm, and then she saw a few of the previous entries on display in Rotorua and she became a convert.

Fortunately we had friends with a flat near downtown so we did not have to find lodging. We could walk to the TSB Bank Arena in Queens Wharf, even with our heels and fancy dress. You do not have to dress up, but it can be part of the fun. It is an audience who will admire your effort. I received several compliments on my wrap while standing in the inevitable line to the ladies restroom. (The restroom is a must stop before the show–no intermission!)

The stage is set so each creation can come out from a centerpiece and progress out on to one of five runways. The fashion entries rotate around in a choreography to music so there is always so much to look at and enjoy. Dancers and, in one set, circus performers, add to the visual stimulation. There is so much to delight the eyes, the biggest challenge is figuring out a strategy for focusing attention to avoid missing any of it.

Since photos are not permitted during the performance... another creation from a prior show

Since photos are not permitted during the performance… another creation from a prior show

UK Sarah and American Julie at World of Wearable Art 2013

UK Sarah and American Julie at World of Wearable Art 2013

We bought the “premium plus” ticket for the 25th anniversary show. This ensures the quality of the seats and includes the program. It is $25NZ if you buy it separately and greatly enhances the after-show experience as each design is featured in photos. It also helps to explain the sections or themes for the show. At the end of the performance they announce the winners of each section and overall winners.

Anticipation can sweeten the experience of an event and it can lead to disappointment. The World of Wearable Art was satisfying in every way and worth the effort.

The stage appears smaller in my photo than it did during the performance.

The stage appears smaller in my photo than it did during the performance. We sat in the first row of seats behind the dinner seating.

Swatch: Fashionable Possum

I was planning to do a yarn crawl in Dunedin. I researched several yarn shops in advance.  On my first day in Dunedin I had a little bit of time, so I went to the first couple of wool shoppes on my list.  The first was unfortunately typical of New Zealand.  Here I am in the land of the best wool in the world and the yarn and patterns are all targeted to Grandma.  It is shocking how the fashion knitting craze has completely evaded NZ thus far.

Seriously TwistedThe name of the next shop held some promise: Seriously Twisted!  I walked up to the Octogon and found the shop. At first I thought it was only ready made knit wear, albeit of good quality. Then I spotted Janene Weir working on a project in the rear of the shop.  She was weaving what looked like luxurious fur into a crocheted scarf.  It was lovely.  I quickly learned that the shop owner and knit wear designer Linzi Irving created a way to take the pesky possum and treat the fur to make it look remarkably like mink.

Possum were introduced in NZ by some demented person years ago and now threatens native bird and bush species. You can feel good about wearing this fur as you are doing something for the environment.  It is a hollow fibre so it holds the heat and provides warmth. It can be combined with merino wool for the warmest gloves I’ve ever owned.  Or used as a fur trim as Linzi does.

At first I was focused on the beautiful scarves, and then Janene showed me a beautiful wrap. I tried it on and it was so light, and soft, I did not want to take it off.  After wearing it around the shop to look at their lovely NZ yarn selection, and other sweaters, I realized that it was the perfect topper for my World of Wearable Art outfit.

Linzi arrived about now and the three of us had a fun conversation about the status of knitwear design in NZ, the World of Wearable Art, my blog, and a dozen other topics.  It is amazing how knitting can foster kindred spirits. I left the shop quite pleased with my purchases and happy to have made two new Kiwi friends.

P.S. I did find a couple more yarn stores and they were all like the first–too much acrylic! and too many designs from 1980.

Linzi Irving original designs at Seriously Twisted

Linzi Irving original designs at Seriously Twisted