With the holidays fast approaching, everyone we know is starting their annual scramble to find great gifts. We’ve always felt that books make the best children’s presents. Over the years we’ve posted some of our favorites, all of which encourage creative thinking. From surprising cookbooks to clever craft projects, we highly recommend these six books to inspire your child’s inner artist. Click through the links below to read our posts about each one and order from Amazon, starting with The Donut Chef by Bob Staake ( buy it here)… read more…
We have a lot of respect for writer Michael Pollan’s writing about the food industry, and heard that his 2009 book Food Rules: An Eater’s Manual presented a sane approach to eating. But we’ve been so bombarded over the years with”scientifically proven” strictures about what to cook and eat that were later proven WRONG, that our skepticism kept us away from his book. Until now.
Last month Pollan re-released the book with a set of fabulous illustrations by Maira Kalman, and we were hooked. Pollan’s rules are totally sensible, easy to follow ideas for maximizing the good stuff in your diet, most of which we can definitely get behind. But it’s the great images that really pull you in and make the rules come alive. Here are some of our favorites, starting with the one, above, whose simple rule is “Cook”: read more…
If ever a meal were improvised it’s Thanksgiving, where cooks from tested to terrified face off with one common ingredient and end up with something completely different than practically everyone else’s. That’s because turkey challenges our sensibilities and confidence, from its oversize anatomy that cooks at different speeds, to its flavor spectrum that ranges from chicken-like white meat to pheasant-like dark meat. How to dress it? To brine or not to brine? Deep fried? What kind of gravy? How many sides? Just thinking about it either excites or exhausts most cooks, depending on their sense of adventure.
I look at pairing wines with Thanksgiving feasts as an Olympic downhill ski run with lots of obstacles; a herculean effort that, if done well, should be both fun and exhilarating. To keep it fun, however, is to know that it’s not really the Olympics, and the choices far outweigh the obstacles. The place to start is understanding the universal truth that food and wine belong together, and that it’s far better to have them alongside each other than to be caught without one or the other. On their own, each should be delicious, but together they should make each other taste even better.
Pairing is essentially all about either complementing or contrasting tastes. read more…
Recently, Manhattan User’s Guide featured a chic cast iron book bar from Beekman 1802 in a round-up of gifts under $21. It’s designed to hold open the pages of a book, while providing a horizontal guide for reading. It is 7 inches long by 1/4 inch square and weighs 4.4 ounces; with shipping, it costs $23.
We thought it was a great idea, being non-fru-fru, elemental and totally utilitarian, qualities we value in our attempts to keep things minimal. We wondered if we could fashion one ourselves out of a softer metal – say copper, which would oxidize nicely but presented no danger of rusting. read more…
Remember the beautiful Chauvet cave paintings we wrote about a few months ago? Well every artist needs his or her toolkit, and archeologists recently discovered what appear to be “artist kits” in a South African cave. The kits, which date back 100,000 years, are made of abalone shells, perfect for holding and transporting essential painting materials: a quartzite stone for grinding up pigments like charcoal and ochre – which produces rich reds and yellows – and the pigments themselves. The ground pigments were poured into the shell and mixed with a liquid to make paint. One of the kits held a slender bone from the front leg of a wolf or dog with one end dipped in ochre: a possible paint brush. The kits are the first known instance of homo sapiens compounding a painting medium. Charcoal and ochre are the same materials used in the Chauvet cave, but those paintings are only 30,000 years old.
The desire to create is built into our very DNA. Our lineage is full of artists… read more…
A friend recently sent us a postcard with this image; it’s called Leaping the Chasm at Stand Rock, Wisconsin Dells, 1887 by Henry Hamilton Bennett. On the back she wrote: “…thought it was an appropriate image for this phase of your life – taking risk, eager to have a new perspective/vantage point, lots of momentum for this jump, etc” .
We don’t know when a post card has packed more of punch. With it came such good wishes and recognition, we felt like we drank a tonic.
It’s partly the power of snail mail, because snail mail means someone has taken the time to write – in effect, to make – and send something tangible, giving the words all the more power. It’s REAL; we can tape it on our wall and be reminded of so much.
Postcard as tiny, potent gift.
Related posts: sending virtual flowers and b’day cakes
postcardly: send a real postcard via email
poems as gifts: don wentworth’s ‘past all traps’
“don’t give up!” (the inspirational letters project)
origami made of anything (vic muniz’ birds of a feather)
Our apologies for the ‘Our Friends with Benefits‘ PayPal link getting wonky, which a reader alerted us to last weekend. We hope it didn’t pull you into PayPal hell. It’s fixed now. Thank you all who returned to subscribe or made single donations. We deeply appreciate your support. –The Management
For a long time, it was our habit to jump out of bed and start working: reading blogs, news, emails, writing. We were, literally, swept away each day by the virtual world we love to wander around in; there were no real breaks and downtime, no time to turn inward, quiet. Every morning, we simply jumped in.
Then a friend told us that he made a practice of always reading something uplifting or illuminating first thing in the morning – NOT firing up the computer and NOT reading the news, but rather taking the time to read a bit of poetry or a philosophy, something that was more about ‘being’ rather than ‘doing’. We decided to try it, turning to books that we valued but hadn’t looked at for years – Wherever You Go, There You Are… Neruda’s Garden: An Anthology of Odes… reading as we drank a cup of tea in the quiet of the morning. It changed everything; the books we read have the effect of centering us for much of the day, while teaching us a new perspective.
A piece that we return to frequently, and that we find reverberating mightily in our thinking, is by Vietmamese Zen master, poet and peace advocate Thich Nhat Hanh. It’s called “What’s Not Wrong”, from his book Peace Is Every Step: The Path of Mindfulness in Everyday Life: read more…
When we launched our fund-raising experiment, Friends with Benefits, we were amazed and heartened to get emails from some readers asking if they could pledge more than the $5, $7, or $9 monthly we gave as options on the PayPal menu. That’s possible now.
THANK YOU to those who pledged and the many welcome single donations we received. We are heartened, and hoping we will be able to stave off taking advertising.
In the meantime, if you find yourself eagerly awaiting ‘the improvised life’ in your Inbox each morning, or find it reverberating in your life, we encourage you to become a Friend with Benefits, and start linking to the community.
If it didn’t have locks on it, we’d post this video about now.
Top image: Untitled artwork by Holton Rower made of money and cinder block. Thanks Holt!
Related post: become a friend with benefits
Related posts: the possibilian explores time
patti smith’s (+ ancient chinese) smile therapy
brian eno on ‘structuring ideas’ in improvising
tina fey’s 4 1/2 rules (in 4 1/2 minutes)
‘beautiful oops’ lesson for all of us: mistakes are OK
Our giveaway contest for Leslie Williamson’s Handcrafted Modern: At Home with Mid-century Designers ends tomorrow – Thursday – morning at 10 am EST. If you haven’t entered, now’s your chance to do it: To enter, simply go to ‘the improvised life’s’ facebook page and “Like” us to become a facebook fan. Just type cut and paste http://www.facebook.com/theimprovisedlife into your browser’s address bar, and you’ll get there. Once you’re a fan, find any of the posts on our wall related to Handcrafted Modern (we’ll make sure to put one up each day!) and leave a comment or just write “I want Handcrafted Modern”. If you’re already a fan on facebook, just leave a comment on a Handcrafted Modern post and you’re all set. We’ll randomly select a winner from all of the commenters at the end of next week. read more…
Two years ago, I started ‘the improvised life’ based entirely on the feeling that it needed to exist. Many people I knew were in critical transitions in their lives and facing the risk involved in new endeavors. A website about improvising as a daily practice—living more resourcefully and thinking outside-the-box—seemed timely.
Creating this site was a risk for me as well: using savings to fund an unproven project in the unfamiliar medium of the blogosphere. But since its start, ’the improvised life’ has gotten a wonderful response, and to my surprise, an amazing community has grown up around it. Readers write daily to say how much the posts inspire them to take small (or big!) steps toward new ways of doing things. read more…
Don’t forget to check out the simple rules for entering our giveaway of Leslie Williamson’s book Handcrafted Modern. Contest ends 10 am Thursday morning EST. read more…
Announcing our latest book giveaway: Leslie Williamson’ Handcrafted Modern: At Home with Mid-century Designers, published by Rizzoli. Photographing with only natural light, Williamson documented details of the homes of fourteen mid-century designers, artists and craftspeople, including Jens Risom, Eva Zeisel, Harry Bertoia and Walter Gropius.
We love that the photos show the homes exactly as they were when the designers lived there, as with the image of Walter Gropius’ desk. You get to experience the personal touches that actually make a home feel like a home. Williamson set out to shoot the homes not only as examples of modernist design, but also to capture how these designers crafted homes that were meant to be lived in. Her exploration into the nexus of art and function, and forgoing design perfection in the name of a livable space is one that is close to our hearts. read more…