Sunday, July 15, 2018

Da fam!

Yay, my fam is here! Well, at least some of my fam. (Being the oldest of six kids means that as an adult, you rarely see all your sibs in one place at one time.) My sister Jenny is visiting, which isn't unusual, but what's even niftier is that she brought Tim-my-brother with her. Tim hasn't been to visit us since before his first child was born, some 18 years ago.

Buck family crest
So are we doing the touristy Seattle stuff all week? YOU BET WE ARE.

Tuesday, July 03, 2018

Sooz Makes Stuff: altered greeting cards

(This idea seems so self-evident that although I came up with it on my own, I'm certain I wasn't the first to do so. However, when I searched for "altered greeting cards," most of the hits described ways to modify the chip in an audio greeting card. This is not that kind of alteration.)

I have a slightly quixotic love for snailmail. There's nothing wrong with email -- it's both faster and (usually) more likely to reach its destination -- but as we march inexorably toward all-electronic communications, the odd snailmail letter or postcard becomes more cherished by those who receive one. There's something both vital and elegant about a real piece of physical mail, one that isn't advertising anything, that someone took the time to write, address and send just to you.

So although I send emails and texts every day, I also send out snailmail birthday cards, anniversary cards and thank-you notes. Occasionally I make my own cards, but I usually find nifty cards made by someone else. This isn't obscenely expensive, since I know where to shop; I buy birthday cards for great prices at Half Price Books, and low-priced anniversary cards and thank-you notes at Dollar Tree and Trader Joe's (the latter has a wide range of attractive cards for the bargain price of 99 cents). I don't often bother with secondhand cards, but it's possible to find cheap gems at Goodwill, Value Village or creative reuse centers.

There is, however, a potential problem with picking up greeting cards at a discount: substandard sentiment inside. Let's say you've found a frugal anniversary card with an attractive cover, but the inner content is a little blah or too syrupy for your liking. Could you write better content? Of course you could. SO LET'S FIX THAT GLURGE.

Outside = purty!
You will need:
  • a nice-looking greeting card with meh inner content
  • a glue stick
  • heavy white paper or light cardstock, and/or a scrap of colored cardstock that matches the colors of the card
  • a computer, printer and word processing program (or mad calligraphy skills)
  • a rotary cutter and mat (or a straightedge, a pair of scissors and surgeon-steady hands)
Well, it's not bad... but we can make it better.
Write some content to replace the sentimental glurge inside your greeting card. You may choose to make it funnier, or to personalize it for the recipient. (Mine is going to a couple that really loves good chocolate.) It may take more than one draft. Take your time.

Once you have your replacement content just right, put your printer to work. If you're me (and I am), you have a basic black laser-jet printer. But that's OK, because most inner content of inexpensive greeting cards is in black and white anyway. Crank up the word processing program of your choice (yay WordPerfect!) and find a font that matches or closely resembles the one on the outside of the card. Type up your new content, working until you get the font size and line breaks just right, then print a test run. Check to make sure it fits inside the greeting card and covers the existing sentiment. Once you've got it the way you want it, pull out your heavy white paper and print up your new content. (Alternatively, you can bust out your mad calligraphy skills to write the new content just so.)

What, you were expecting Shakespeare?
Cut your content down to size with your rotary cutter and mat. Chances are good that, unless you used really heavy paper, you'll still be able to see traces of the old sentiment behind it. Never fear! Paste your content onto a scrap of colored cardstock that matches the outside colors of the card, then cut it down to size with your trusty rotary cutter (this is way easier than cutting the cardstock first, then trying to center and paste down your content by sheer eyeballing. Learn from my MANY fails).

Turn over the cardstock-mounted content and slather the back of that thang with glue stick. Make sure you get it all the way out to the corners. Now flip it over, carefully take it by the edges and position it lightly over the original glurge. Center it very carefully. When you're sure you've got it just right, gently press your new content down onto the card, starting at the center and working out to the edges.

If it doesn't lie flat, stick it between two heavy books to dry and smooth down overnight.

All done! Now all I have to do is add our signatures, slip in a little gift card from a local chocolate company and we're ready to roll.

Tuesday, June 26, 2018

Liquid diet is blah

Typing this up on an iPad, not my normal mode of composition, so I’ll likely keep this entry short.

I am super grumpy this week. It’s another all-clear-liquid, sugar-free diet week, which I’ve done before, but this week also happens to be my family reunion, which further complicates things. It’s doubly difficult to make do with chicken broth or a protein shake when everyone else is chowing down on favorite family recipes. (Doing this on the say-so of my surgeon, who intends to set a date to cut me up some time in July.) I don’t want to be Auntie Grump all week, but it’s going to be tough to maintain a cheerful attitude when I’m starving.

Wish me luck, because I’d kill for a burrito right now.

Friday, June 08, 2018

Building beyond the boring black box

Most of us don't spend a lot of time thinking about the design of things. But almost every item with which we come in contact on a daily basis had to undergo various design and testing processes before it was made available to the public. Everything, from scissors to pencils to aluminum soda cans, had to be meticulously designed before it was made. When items are well designed, they're a pleasure to use; when they're poorly designed, the wrongness of using them practically shouts at you. (Shameless Plug Alert: if you haven't already read The Design of Everyday Things by Donald Norman, hie you to a bookseller and purchase a copy forthwith!)

While some people are constantly looking for ways to improve the practical design of all sorts of items, it's also very easy to fall into a rut where a particular object's design is deemed "good enough" and left to languish for decades, if not longer. (When was the last time you saw a major redesign of, say, an Amtrak train in the United States?)

One arena where this design laziness runs rampant is in the creation of skyscrapers and other large public buildings. So many modern skyscrapers are nothing but big black boxes. Yes, it's easy to point out celebrated public projects by the likes of William Pereira, Rem Koolhaas and Frank Gehry, but for every Transamerica Pyramid, Seattle Public Library and EMP Building there are dozens, if not hundreds, of boring rectangles. And it doesn't have to be that way.

The Osteon Cumulus Vertical City, proposed for Wuxi City, China
Once we let go of the idea that skyscrapers have to be a) big boring boxes and b) designed to do just one thing, we encourage young architects to come up with wonderful ideas -- structures that clean the air, structures that can be packed up and moved elsewhere to be deployed again, structures designed to seed clouds and make rain, structures that tap into the power of active volcanoes, structures that mimic natural forms like trees or mushrooms, or structures like the huge vertical city illustrated above.

Geeking out and slavering for more? Let me steer you toward the eVolo website.* Here you'll find wondrous examples of modern-to-futuristic architecture, art and design (plus a raft of really cool pens for the amateur calligraphers out there). eVolo also holds a yearly skyscraper design competition where many of the winning entries read like something out of science fiction, but they're meant to be actual architectural projects.

If everything worthwhile has to be designed before it's made, then that includes the future. It means we have to take active part in determining what our future will look like, how it's designed, how it will operate. And creating a truly futuristic architecture means thinking -- and building -- literally as well as figuratively outside the box.

* No, eVolo didn't pay me anything to recommend their website. I just think they're nifty.

Friday, June 01, 2018

Mother Nature visits Bellevue Botanical Garden

I have always been slow.

This is not to say that I'm also laid-back and serene; I can be anxious and annoyingly perfectionistic about my various projects. But when it comes to getting things done quickly? Not so much. My speed has always leaned more toward Tortoise than Hare. (And when I say "always," I mean always. My family lived a short block from my elementary school and my mom sent me out the door every weekday morning with plenty of time to spare, but even so I ambled into class late nearly every day of third grade. My teacher finally asked me why I never arrived on time, and I replied in typically ethereal little-Soozcat fashion, "Oh, I was just looking around at the trees... and the flowers... and the birds..." This comment, overheard by classmates, swiftly earned me my first nickname: Mother Nature.)

In the modern world, slowness and deliberateness are hardly perceived as positive attributes; at best, they're tolerated. At worst, people scream at you to get out of their way. But I'm convinced that, even in a fast-paced world, slowness still has its advantages. It often comes with related abilities -- meditation, thinking and feeling deeply about one's experiences, observation of details that others miss -- that are difficult or impossible for the go-go-go types to cultivate. And there are times and places where such slow-paced attributes come in handy.

Which brings us to the subject of today's photo essay adventure:

Yup, the Bellevue Botanical Garden, open spring to fall, dawn to dusk, free of charge. CM and I have lived in the Puget Sound area off and on since 1996, so I'm slightly ashamed to admit that today was the first time I visited this place. I'm sure it won't be the last.

Having successfully found the parking lot, I parked the Suburban Stealth Vehicle and meandered toward the entrance.

All over the garden are these little pedestals with QR codes on them; apparently, if you have a smartphone, you can use these codes to give yourself a guided tour of the garden. If you've tried these, please comment and let me know how it went.

The first area I encountered was the Rock Garden, an area designed to mimic the harsh ecosystem of high mountains. It's sparse, but it has its charms.

On the first day of June, the irises are just coming into bloom.

I liked this small tree (possibly a Japanese maple?).

There's also a waterwise garden, a bit unexpected given that it rains some nine months of the year around here. But even the drizzly Puget Sound area gets dry during the summer.

I was drawn to these flowers, but I have no idea what they are. Tried looking them up, to no avail. If you happen to know, please tell me.

ETA (16 June 2018): Postcrossing member Ina kindly informs me that this plant is an Astrantia, also called masterwort. You can read more about the genus here.

Unfortunately you can't really tell from the photo, but these flowers were being swarmed by happy bees today.

The Shorts house, former home of the Shorts family (whose property was donated to the city to become most of the botanical garden). It's now an education center and cafe.

This comment on the sign outside the Shorts house made me giggle: "Billy and Betsy, the Shorts' rambunctious goats, were originally enlisted to eat blackberry vines and other invasive plants. They chose to eat everything else instead."

Sounds about right.

A bubbling water feature just outside the house.

The water from this feature trickles down this long path and over the edge of the plaza.

At one edge of the plaza is Goldiwarts, a bronze statue who functions much the same as Rachel the pig does at Pike Place Market. If you want to make a contribution to the Garden, you can put a chunk of change into Goldiwarts' hollow log bank.

The use of water in this garden is beautiful and particularly effective. Here's a rivulet near the Japanese teahouse.

And another rivulet near the Japanese teahouse.

And... you guessed it... yet another rivulet near the Japanese teahouse.

And, just for the sake of completion, the Japanese teahouse. (Actually it's the Tateuchi viewing pavilion, but it looks like a teahouse to me, so.)

I've always loved ferns and bracken, and the Pacific Northwest has a lot of them.

It also has a lot of Oregon grape, with holly-like leaves and clusters of blue berries.

Now seems as good a time as any to take a load off my feet...

...and take in an idyllic scene.

By the way, I didn't take many pictures of other people, but there were a few folks in the Garden today. Some of them were taking a leisurely pace, but others were speedwalking along the path as if they had an appointment to get to in ten minutes. Watching them, I couldn't help but wonder how much they could really take in. Most of the Garden, even the stuff that appears to be wild growth, has been carefully planted and meticulously curated -- but can you really notice these subtle details when you're chugging along like a steamboat?

Eh well. Let's just see where this path leads, shall we?

Hmm, what's all this then?

Ah, it's the Yao Japanese Garden, named for Bellevue's sister city of Yao, Japan.

The entrance gate is, according to the legend outside, made completely without nails.

Inside, the garden is designed to look as naturalistic as possible, but there are some signs of human intervention.

For instance...

...there are several stone lanterns. (Could a friend with better knowledge of Japanese tell me what it says on the base?)

After walking around the garden, I had a seat for a while, took in what I'd seen so far, then thought to look up.

The canopy of maple leaves over my head was incredibly graceful. I was suddenly filled with a strong sensation of gratitude -- at the beauty of this place, at my good fortune to live so close to such beauty and to have such easy access to it, at living in this particular time. I don't want to sugar-coat everything; this world is still full of terrors and sorrows, but there are also wonders to be had in the here and now, and a sense of hope for a miraculous future. I'm not letting go of that hope.

It's mostly the wrong time of year for berries, but I found a few bright scarlet ones in the Japanese garden.

Leaving the Yao garden, I made my way next to the native discovery garden, which has been kept mostly wild and is filled with native plants. Seen here is the pond.

This looks a bit like wild carrot, aka Queen Anne's lace, but again I'm not sure what it is.

More irises, these ones at the peak of their blooming.

I've tromped through some actual wild places in Washington, and this looks about as close as you can get to actual wild space. Minus the Himalayan blackberries that grow pretty much everywhere. (These and other invasive species are actively tracked down and weeded out of the Garden.)

As one wanders deeper into the Garden...

...the surroundings become increasingly primeval. One begins to feel dwarfed by the sheer scale of nature.

Here's just one example: a single leaf from a bigleaf maple that had fallen onto a bench. How big was this leaf? Almost twice as large as my hand. And there were even bigger leaves up in the canopy.

When I was a tween, I had this vivid dream about hiking with a school group through Calaveras Big Trees State Park in California. As was typical for me, I was meandering along in back, and everyone else had moved on and left me behind, but I didn't care -- it gave me more time to look around. And while I was enjoying the beauty of a sunlit clearing, I had the distinct feeling I was being watched. Suddenly a giant came out from behind the massive sequoias where he'd been hiding, reached down and gathered me up in one hand to take a closer look at me. It all happened too quickly for me to be afraid, and when I showed no sign of fear in his presence, his huge face broke into the sweetest smile and he began talking to me like an old friend. There was something absolutely lovely about the whole experience, even if it was only a dream, and it tends to come back to my memory whenever I'm in a forested area with tall trees. It's an odd but wonderful thing to feel tiny, yet not at all insignificant.

Well, anyway, this area is known as the Lost Meadow. It's full of yellow wildflowers this time of year.

A massive bigleaf maple...

...housing a sweetly tiny birdhouse.

As wild as this place looks, there are frequent signs of human habitation, whether it's the roar of cars on the nearby Lake Hills Connector or this other entrance to the park, beyond which is a sprawling apartment complex.

There are also more pleasant signs of humanity -- like this object, which resembled a giant bee skep.

As I got closer, I discovered a little door in the side of the object, about three feet tall.

So of course, I crept inside.

And here's what I found.

Tiny chinks in the structure let in air and light.

Something about the roof reminds me of our old college planetarium.

You may ask, "What is this, exactly?"

Well, it's an art installation, that's what. I'm not sure I was supposed to go inside, but I promise I didn't touch it.

The remains of an old house foundation. It doesn't take long for nature to break things down.

And deeper into the Garden we go, because we must! If the signs aren't steering us wrong, the Ravine awaits!

"Wait, what now?" I hear you cry. "The Ravine? What is this Ravine you speak of?"


...that would be this Ravine, O Best Beloved.

The Ravine is a deep gash in the forest, an area that wasn't originally part of the Garden but was bought by the City of Bellevue and added on in the last decade or so, the better to connect it to the Wilburton Trail.

To make this area easier for casual hikers to navigate...

...they built a 150-foot-long pedestrian suspension bridge over the Ravine.

It is definitely a suspension bridge, too. If you have a fear of heights, this bridge may not be for you. I could feel it gently swaying and bouncing beneath me as I made my way over to the other side.

The little streamlet at the bottom of the Ravine, far below.

As I've said, this isn't a good time of year for berries, but I did find a few half-eaten salmonberries here and there.

Also some columbines...

...and more than a few signs of woodpeckers in the area.

This place was full of Ents -- big trees with their roots mostly out of the ground, ready to stomp around at night and scare off intruders. This one's so precariously tied to the ground, I'm worried he might fall over soon.

Life is everywhere, even in the stump of an old tree, where fungus is starting to break things down to usable nutrients for other plants.

I didn't see many birds up close, but I could certainly hear them up in the canopy.

Took another seat and enjoyed a few minutes of feeling small within a primeval place. That is, until the mosquitoes found me. Curse my sweet, tasty diabetic blood!

So I stomped away. Some forest denizens are more welcome than others.

Note to self: if you're going on a long walk, it's a good idea to look back once in a while. I noticed things walking out of the Garden that I didn't see when I was walking in.

Including this: the Gnome Door!

It's a little door about two feet tall, right next to the Tateuchi viewpoint area. I would have missed it completely if I'd speedwalked past the areas I'd already seen.

I guess Mr. Gnome wasn't at home. Or he just wasn't in the mood to entertain visitors today.

Instead I had to content myself with these delicate little white flowers.

Also some picturesque bamboo on the way out.

I'm pretty sure that, even in the two-plus hours I spent here, I didn't see the whole Garden. But that just gives me a reason to come back again later.

And then I went to Home Despot, because reasons. The End.

Oh yes, and remember: it's not nice to fool Mother Nature. *thunder*