Who do you think you are?

30-something mother, wife, lawyer, writer, design junkie, craftaholic, cook

likes: clever tools, snazzy colors, working for justice, kid wrangling, Meyer lemons

dislikes: inefficiency, civil discovery, most shades of purple, Tori Amos

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Saturday
Jan052013

January Radishes

A radish.

That I have been neglecting this site is undeniable. I have been conflicted about how and why to continue. In the Pinterest era, it is easy to believe that there is someone else out there who is better, neater, tidier, and thensome than anything I have to offer.

But that's the thing, isn't it?

Tightly framed shots. Perfectly placed bokeh backlighting. Marvelous antique silver cachepot somethingorothers.

Does anyone really live like that? I travel in some pretty well-heeled circles, and I don't know anyone who does.

For the last year or so, I've struggled with Cottage Industrialist. It has brought me incredible pleasure, helped me to forge real-life friends, and helped me soldier through some tough times. But I have become increasingly concerned that I have been a part of selling a fantasy. A fantasy in which I do not—and do not want to—live.

***

In late December of 2008, I posted a calendar on my blog, which was then only a few months old. I sent a PDF of the calendar to a blogger I admired. She never wrote back. I printed off a few copies for family members and moved on. And then on December 31, the hits started rolling in. First by the hundreds and then by the thousands. Some other well-known blogger I'd never heard of had found the calendars and posted a link in her year-end round up. And, overnight I went from having a handful of friends and random Norweigans reading my site to being (okay, feeling like) an internet sensation. And, well, that felt pretty fricking good.

To my great delight, a lot of the people who came for free calendars stuck around and became a part of a community of big-hearted people who appreciated the same things I did and encouraged me personally as I tried to figure out how to pursue them amidst the pressures of being a mom, wife, lawyer, daughter, sister, and friend.

That and, I would soon learn, they (along with every other person on the internet) REALLY liked calendars.

For the next few years, I would spend much of November and December trying my best to outdo myself, trying to please the clamoring hordes. I tried humor one year. The next I taught myself to paint. Seriously. 

***

This year, as October and November and December ebbed farther and farther along, the annual pressure to come up with a calendar felt lopsided and weird. I've never let up with my industrialist ways at home. But over the last year or so, I've decided to back off of documenting my every crafty or culinary move for the world to see. So why keep up the calendar business? Hadn't it run it's course?

But. Two things:

1. Radishes.

Two years ago, when I set out to do the drawings that became the basis of the Seasonal Produce Calendar 1.0, I had a file that I worked on for HOURS. It was a bunch of radishes. And I loved those damned radishes. But I ran out of room for them. And never finished them. I can't tell you how many radishes I've drawn since. It's like they're trying to tell me something.

2. Emails.

The Internet gets a pretty bad rap. Creepy ads for Viagra and Cialis and mail-order brides. Spam chain letters and flame wars and anonymous comment trolls. But, in my experience, the Internet is full of kind, lovely people. WHO FREAKING LOVE CALENDARS. And who write forceful, if very polite, emails requesting same. Posthaste, please.

So.

It's late. Your January is one-quarter finished. You are likely penciling in your February obligations.

And all I have for you is this radish. This single, winter radish.

But that's the thing. It's not perfect—radishes rarely are. But they are bright, red spots in winter's dreary harvest. They are a promise of spring's plump peaches, of summer's bright red tomatoes. And so, in a way, this single radish is my promise to you few who remain, who pester me (eversogently) for the next installment in this Julian madness. There will be more to come. In the fullness and ripeness of time. 

You never know when the next bumper crop is on the way...

Download January here. Be not a jerk. Do not sell, alter, or redistribute, please.

Sunday
Jul152012

There's an app for that: how to make your own web-based summer reading app!

This time last year my little boy had just turned five. He was learning to swim and steadfastly refusing to learn to read. Rather than push the issue, I read to him as often as possible and figured he'd pick it up when he was ready. Only a few months later, and his kindergarten teacher had spearheaded a transformation. By the end of this school year, my pudgy-handed little five-year-old had become a tall, skinny rising first grader who, it seems, can't NOT read every billboard and street sign and cereal box he encounters.

Still, persuading him to read anything longer than a well-placed advertisement has been a challenge. He's added to his list of obsessions—pirates have had to make room for ninjas and Star Wars and...well...Angry Birds. Although we limit his screen time, I'm amazed at the ease with which he seems able to learn anything technological.

So I've tried to devise a way to keep him motivated to read. His school is doing a summer reading contest, but the end of the summer is as remote as the turn of the next century to a six-year-old. Still, I want to track his reading for the contest so he and his teacher will know how much he's accomplished over the summer. So I give him a point for every page he reads. He has to reach a certain number of points before he's allowed to spend his money on any kind of toy. Brilliant, right? Yeah, until you start trying to keep track of it. I mean, maybe you are more organized than I, but within the first few days of summer, I found myself trying to keep up with umpteen scraps of loose paper with scribbled titles and page numbers. 

So I turned to technology. I searched the Apple store for a summer reading app, but couldn't find anything that suited me. Everything was far more complicated than I wanted. I just wanted to be able to record the name of the book, how many pages (aka points) were in it, and a brief reflection from my son about what he liked about the book. Finally, I gave up looking and decided to make one for myself.

Using nothing but free services (Google Docs/Drive and DropBox, plus some freeware scripts and helpful tutorials), I was able to create a web "app"* that I can access from my iPhone, my iPad, or any device with access to the internet. My son just has to answer a few questions, and hit submit—every entry is automatically dropped into a Google spreadsheet that I can access from anywhere to track his reading progress and his points.

And you can do it, too!

Although I was once—so very long ago—a computer programmer (as in, I was one of those people who was feverishly re-coding mainframe computers to avert the Y2Kpocalypse), it didn't require any real coding skills, just a little careful cutting and pasting. 

First, I'd like to point you toward the helpful resoures I used to make my Reading List app:

How to Host Your Website on Dropbox

Customizing and Styling Google Forms

Now here's how to do it yourself, even if you don't have your own website!

Before we begin, if you haven't already, you'll need to sign for a free Dropbox account (unless you plan to host your web app from your own web site) and install the Dropbox app on your computer. You'll also need a free Google account. Which, surely, you already have, right? Finally, you'll need a text editor appropriate for making minor edits to an html page. I have been using "Text Wrangler" for Mac, which is free, but there are loads of free options for Mac and Windows.

Now, you'll need to download the two files linked below. Save these in your Dropbox folder in the subfolder named "Public." You can rename the form template to anything you like, but unless you are comfortable rooting around in HTML, don't rename the apple-touch-icon file.

Right-click (control-click on a Mac) to download and save:

reading_form_template.html

apple-touch-icon.png

Now, go to your Google Docs/Drive account, and create a new form:

Google automatically creates a form with two fields, by default. You can edit these, name your form, and add as many other fields as you need:

When you've finished creating your form, you'll notice, at the bottom of the page, a link to the "published form." It will look something like this:

Copy this link, and then click on the link to launch your form. Looks pretty good already, right? If you want to stop right here, you've already got a functional form that you can bookmark and use, easy peasy. But if, like me, you want to have an app icon on your iPhone or iPad that your kiddo can use to enter his own info, press on.

Your web browser should have an option to "View Source." Mine looks like this:

When you "View Source" you can see all the html and other code that instructs your web browser what your form should look like. Now, you need to go hunting. You're looking for a chunk of text that starts with "<form action" and ends with "</form>." Copy this entire chunk of code.

Now, using your text editing app, open the reading_form_template.html that you saved in your Public folder on Dropbox. Scroll down till you see this:

<!--Insert your form's custom code BELOW this line-->

Now put your cursor in the next empty line and paste the code you copied from the web form source code.

Next, you need to find the "public" address of your web app's icon file. Go to your Dropbox folder and click on the Public subfolder. Right click (or control-click on a Mac) on the file named "apple-touch-icon.png" and look for the Dropbox menu option. You want to select "Copy Public Link" from this menu:

Now, go back to your text editing app. There are two spots where you'll need to paste the "Public Link" you just copied. In both places, you're looking for this text: "REMOVE_THIS_TEXT_AND_REPLACE_WITH_ICON_PUBCLIC_LINK" Select all the text between the quotation marks, but LEAVE THE QUOTATION MARKS IN PLACE. Paste the "Public Link" in the place of the highlighted text.

Now, save all the changes to your reading list form.

Go back to your Dropbox folder and find the reading list form. Again, you want to copy the Public Link. Now you can paste this link into your web browser or an email. If you open the link on an iPad or iPhone, you can save the page to your home screen. Try it, and—violà!—you've made an app. (Sort of. At least that's what you can tell your kiddos.) I've shared my page with my mom, so whenever my son reads books over at her house, she can keep me updated. I just go back to my Google Drive from time to time to see the full reading list and tally up his pages. So cool!

I've tried to make this as simple as possible. There are tons of ways to make this even niftier, but I didn't want to overcomplicate it. Unfortunately, I'm pretty overscheduled, so I am unable to respond to requests for technical assistance. Feel free, though, to help each other out and to make suggestions for enhancements in the comments. I'll check in whenever I can.

Monday
Feb132012

Aaargh! It's the thought that counts, me hardies.

So, this year I almost didn't do a Valentine set. Preoccupied with other things, like watching my kiddo learn to read, training for a marathon, and watching all the mindless television I missed over the last year, I just didn't feel inspired. Not to mention the fact that when asked what he'd like to have his Valentines be about, my son gave the same answer he gives to nearly all questions at the moment: Star Wars. In explaining why I couldn't—and wouldn't—be honoring that request, I launched into a complex discourse on copyright and creativity. And then I remembered he's five.

So I pulled out my tried-and-true, Jedi-tested mind trick: change the subject.

Finally, a few nights ago, having already started to mock something up, I asked him what he thought about a pirate valentine. See, for nearly two years I wondered if my son would ever go more than five minutes without a pirate related thought. I once even set a timer for five minutes and told him he could not talk about pirates until the timer went off. Really. But now? Now, I look at my tall, skinny, Lucasfilms-addled kindergartner and pine for my pudgy, preschool buccaneer. So. Pirates.

"Oh, yeah, it could have swords and two bad guys fighting, but with heart swords, and..." 

I never pictured myself as the kind of parent who would allow her child to be entertained by swords and jolly rogers and villains and light sabers. Because I am a hard-core pacifist. But kids love what they love, and while he has a finely tuned appreciation for Donald O'Connor and Gene Kelly, he is also a true connoisseur of swashbuckling frenetic fighting action. That said, I didn't feel comfortable sending cards to school that might offend other parents' delicate sensibilities, thus the swordlessness of this little guy. I also didn't want to go overly gender-differentiated, but my son insisted that there had to be a girl version, thus the batty eyelashes on the red version.

If, like me, you waited until the last possible minute to get this stuff done, I offer these up for your use. For most people, these will be too late to use this year, but you can file them away for next year. Or something. (If you have had your kid's valentines addressed since New Year's, well, I think you're missing out on the pirate ethos.)

The envelopes don't have a space for writing names. Instead, I gave my son a page of labels to write his friends' names on. That way, if he messed up, I wouldn't have to cut out a new envelope. Jedi, I tell you, Jedi.

As always, while I embrace pirates as a design motif, I don't embrace piracy. Print these for ye personal use only, or else, landlubber.

Sunday
Jan012012

Looking Back, Looking Forward

I didn't do a lot of writing here in 2011. So I'm going to indulge in a little year-end retrospective to try to put down some of the things I would or could or should have written about, as much as anything else to remind myself of where I was and where I want to be in the future. Fair warning: it's a bit of a doozy.

***

This summer, instead of futzing over still-lifes and photoshop and spoons canted just so, I spent at least one day nearly every week taking my son swimming. We started on the Saturday of Memorial Day weekend. He was so excited, with his goggles and floatie things. Until he got to the edge of the water. And the wailing and recoiling commenced. But slowly, slowly, I coaxed him into the water. He dug holes in my arms, grabbing on for dear life, but we just kept at it. On Sunday, he was just a little less timid. By Monday, he was jumping into my arms and had left the floatie things on the side of the pool. We carried on like that all summer, mostly just the two of us. By the end of the summer he was swimming across the deep end. He has an unshakable bond with his dad, but now this is our thing. We swim. And so at the end of the summer, I didn't look up from my computer (as I did last year) only to realize that the last day of swimming had come and gone. Instead, I slogged into the house, dripping wet, and remembered I had a blog. I can live with that trade-off.

***

Around the time I ran the Bridge Run last spring, I learned an exciting piece of news, but one the importance of which I did not immediately grasp. I was named to the Liberty Fellowship, which is a part of the Aspen Institute's Global Leadership Network. The Fellowship is intended to foster creative leadership within South Carolina (my home) and throughout the world. As honored as I was to be chosen, the announcement came at a time when I was really having a crisis of confidence about who I was—as a lawyer, as a mother, and as a creative person. I felt incredible pressure to be worthy of the recognition. And I shut completely down. I had a pair of truly hideous weeks at work in which I questioned every choice I had ever made that got me to that point. I fantasized about running away to join the circus (really!—and I hate clowns!). If I tried to think about writing here, I came up completely empty. I spent much of the summer in a funk. 

But my crisis was, as existential crises generally are, unecessary. The Fellowship really isn't about being honored for where you've been or what you have done so far. It is about being invested with the opportunity to make a difference in the future. In September, I went to the first of four Aspen seminars with the other members of my Fellowship class. Before the five day retreat, I had only ever met one other member of the class. We had been asked to read a variety of texts and come prepared to discuss them. On Wednesday evening, I greeted a roomful of strangers unsure what to expect, certain that I could not hold my own among a crowd that included elected officials, executives of huge corporations and nonprofits, university faculty, military veterans, gifted physicians, and on and on. Over the next few days, we dug deep into texts that ran the gamut from ancient Greek to science fiction to Martin Luther King. We were asked difficult questions by our moderators and by each other. We were forced to question our assumptions and to really listen to people with very different ideas. We spent nearly every waking minute with one another. On Sunday afternoon, exhausted but enriched, I walked out of a roomful of new friends with a new sense of purpose and the outlines of a clearer vision of who it is I am striving to be.

In the next year-and-a-half, I will rejoin these friends twice more and travel with a smaller group to South Africa to meet fellows from around the world. I'm sorry. What? Seriously. This is beyond spectacular.

But as the saying goes, to whom much is given, much is expected. It's not all sitting around dissecting esoteric texts and traveling to the other side of the world. As a Fellow, I am expected to develop and launch a project that will, in some way, benefit the state of South Carolina. My proposal is due in a couple of weeks, and while I'm well on my way to fleshing out the idea, turning my project into a reality is going to be a huge undertaking. Because it actually ties into the same animating principle that underlies this site, you can expect to be hearing a lot about it in the future.

***

In the Fall of 2010, I was terribly excited to begin teaching part-time at my law school alma mater. I knew it would be tiring and demanding, but I was up for the challenge. I taught a small section of legal writing for a full year. And I returned again this fall to teach the same course. But this year. Ugh. It's a boring, complicated story beset with mommy-guilt, academic politics, and the uncomfortable recognition of truths I'd been warned about. Suffice it to say, I decided not to return for the Spring semester this year, and I feel as if a great weight has been lifted. I agonized about the decision, but once I committed to it, I realized it was the right choice for my family and for me. I'm glad to have had the experience, and I want to teach again in the future, but on my terms. Till then, I'm going to enjoy Tuesday and Thursday nights at home with my family rather than scarfing down junk food while grading papers in my car between my office and my classroom.

***

Yesterday, I did my last run of the year. I really wasn't feeling like a run, but I convinced myself that I'd regret not taking my last opportunity of 2011 to get outside and pound some pavement. I reminded myself that this time last year, I probably couldn't have run a mile without passing out or throwing up. So I laced up my shoes and committed to just one mile. As I got outside, I realized it might be fun to see just how fast I could run a mile. But, of course, I can't just walk outside on cold legs and start running fast. So I committed myself to a half-mile warm up. And then a mile. And a half-mile cool down, of course. I set off on the warm up at a slow clop. My legs felt like paperweights. But I just slogged along until I hit a half mile. Then I stopped. And kind of looked around, wondering if I could do this. And took off. It was like I was doing a completely different activity from what I'd been doing in the minutes just before. I finished my timed mile in just under 8:30. Which, while not fast for an athlete, is like greased lightning for this former sloth who famously failed the mile at age 14 (and at 5 inches shorter and 40 pounds lighter than I am today) by running it in 12:01. That's right. What a difference 22 years makes! And now I have a benchmark. Proof that I can do things I previously thought impossible. (Though I still cannot leap over tall buildings in a single bound—perhaps 2012 is my year?)

***

My son was about 8 months old for his first Christmas five years ago. We had moved into a new house right after he was born. I was still in law school, and money was extremely tight. So I made the obvious choice: host 12 people for Christmas dinner. While the food was good, my mental state was an unmitigated disaster. My son was still not sleeping through the night and had gotten completely out of whack when Daylight Savings Time had ended. I was running on no sleep and excessive quantities of caffeine and anxiety. I had a picture in my mind of what my perfect Christmas dinner would be, but I forgot that my guests were much more interested in each other than in the color coordination of my table setting. I was miserable throughout dinner and had a near nervous breakdown when my child became inconsolable at bed time. There are only so many times you can sing "The Water is Wide" over the baleful wailing of your baby before you start to lose it. After that, for several years, my family tried with limited success in ways subtle and not-so-subtle to keep my holiday hostessing to a minimum.

This year, we had family coming in from New York, Rhode Island, Los Angeles, and Boston. There were so many moving parts, most notably my new little niece, who was born in October. My cousin took over as master of ceremonies. At first I was skeptical, but I finally gave in and let go. And, apparently, when I let go, I really let go. I didn't cook a single thing for any of our holiday gatherings (unless you count assembling a salad). I didn't craft the first centerpiece or iron a single napkin. And, you know what? It was fantastic. I actually sat down and talked to my relatives. I played with my little boy and his eleventy billion new Legos. I bounced my little niece to sleep in my arms more than once. If my five-years-ago self knew what I learned this Christmas, I could have saved myself a lot of heartache. 

***

The last year of my life was complicated, sprawly, and frustrating. But it was also eye-opening, heart-expanding, and inspiring. Who knows what the next will bring. But I feel ready. Welcome to the world, 2012!

Saturday
Dec102011

Come here often? OR Bloglessness of the Long Distance Runner

Well, hello, there. Long time no see, eh?

When last we met in April, I was crowing about having run 6 miles. That was pretty cool. Then I finished a sprint triathlon in May. Very cool.

If you've been following along here for a while you know that when I do things I tend to, well, DO them. So, I got a little caught up in running and swimming and whatnot. Last month I finished my first half marathon, and now I'm training for a full marathon in the Spring. For reals. And though I've been crafting and cooking and writing (you can read about my swim-bike-run exploits here; other stuff isn't quite ready for prime time), just like always, there were inevitable trade-offs. Work greedily gobbles up most of my free time, leaving little time to sit back and appreciate time to draw, daydream, write, think, and laugh. Over the last few months I realized that under these conditions I could either live my life or I could photograph it. I chose living it. That didn't leave much in the way of pretty pictures for the blog.*

But now that another semester is behind me and my evenings are my own again, my sweet blog has been calling out to me, begging to be revived. In particular, some of you have been asking if/when another calendar would be available.

I have good news and bad news. So the good news is that there is a new calendar. The bad news is that it is based on the same drawings as last year—if, like me, you loved those drawings, there is no downside; if, on the other hand, you are sick of them, I guess you're out of luck (that's the bad part).

© 2011 Cameron Blazer // Cottage Industrialist

The printable calendars are available here 

Alrighty, then. You've got 21 days to plan your collard feasting for 2012. Get cracking!

----

*Does that sound defensive? I don't mean for it to. I've written three different long, drawn out posts explaining why I took an unplanned break from blogging; how I want Cottage Industrialist to change and grow; and the responsibility I feel to portray my crazy, happy, frustrating life honestly. But every time I have written those posts, they sound like defenses against an argument no one is making. If I want this space to grow and change and be a little different, I only need to make it so. Right?